Chuck Wemstrom was a public school teacher beginning in the early 1970s through 1999, when he retired from Hyde Park Career Academy – part of CPS. Wemstrom, now a contributor to the Opinion section in the Freeport (IL) Journal Standard, penned a piece offering his thoughts on the current battle ensuing between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Board of Education.
Wemstrom shared his own experience along the picket lines: “I participated in every strike – nine strikes – between 1971 and 1987. We either went on strike or threatened to go on strike every two years,” he writes. “I walked the picket line every day. It gave me a sense of being connected to workers who really had to fight for their rights.”
Wemstrom goes on to link his and his fellow teachers’ fights to union strikes of yore when workers got gunned down for standing up for themselves. However, in the next breath he goes on to say, “We walked the line, joked and laughed; the single teachers would pair off and go for coffee early. The rest of us would hang around and then leave for an early lunch and a couple of beers wondering if our friends would get lucky.”
This sounds more like a fraternity social than a valiant battle for justice. Meanwhile, as Wemstrom and his colleagues were drinking beer and “getting lucky,” the children of CPS missed day after day of school.
When Wemstrom retired from teaching in 1999, his salary was $53,129. That translates into approximately $72,331 in today’s dollars, based on Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs). Hardly chump change for working approximately 180 days per year. Additionally, according to OpenTheBooks.com, an Illinois fiscal watchdog site, Wemstrom – the teacher who worked so hard at the picket lines for the sake of the children – is receiving a monthly, state-tax-exempt pension annuity of $3,450.52 – that’s $41,406.24 annually. Thank you, Illinois taxpayers!
Under current law, for teachers’ pensions, COLA is calculated at 3% per year, compounded. That means that teachers’ aggregate pensions will increase this amount per year, even if the cost of living does not increase at this rate for the rest of the state. For those of you in the private sector, you would need your employee-based 401k to have a balance in excess of $1 million to provide this annuity.
“All we ever wanted to do was teach. All we ever wanted was a decent salary, not a great salary, books and supplies, a manageable class size, time to work together, time to prep and plan. We never wanted much.” Well, Mr. Wemstrom, history says otherwise.