“I started out teaching in Rockford. I taught for many, many years there.

“People would describe me as a very compassionate teacher. I left to stay home for six years with our third child and, you know, I [felt like I] was missing something.

“I [went back] to teach at a small, rural community, then I was recruited by a principal. I became the reading specialist and ended up loving it. I did that for 12 years.

“We got emails constantly from the NEA and IEA telling us who to vote for. Our union president would send us emails as well and forward things that she got directly.

“I’m trying to do my job, and there’s a lot of housekeeping involved and a lot of communication that has to take place, and I open my email and I have union-related emails all about [politics]. It’s discouraging and distracting. This is not what I come here for.

“I thought, ‘I’m paying this money and it’s going to all these campaigns.’ And we all know how that works: The [lawmakers] who got all that campaign money are going to [oppose reforming] the pension system. That was very distressing for me.

“[There’s] concern about not having a pension in the future because it’s so unsustainable. I would like to have my pension. I don’t think there was a lot of actuarial science involved when these pensions were put in place.

“That’s what’s so distressing about getting all those emails about ‘vote for this person, vote for that person.’ We’re putting your union dues in their campaign, and then they’re beholden to us to do what we want in terms of pensions. It just goes back and forth and it’s totally out of control and it doesn’t serve the citizens.

“When the COLA [issue] came up, I felt like a very reasonable presentation was put forth about not increasing the COLA automatically every year by 3%. That could make the current pension system [more] sustainable. And you’re not taking away anything. That the union refused to even look at that was upsetting.

“Relatively speaking, teachers pay into the pension system very little for what they get out over decades following retirement. I don’t feel like it’s fair.

“Our district was one of the districts that would say, ‘you tell us four years in advance your retirement date and we will pad your salary for those four years and then – voila! – you get a better, higher pension.’ I didn’t do that. I’m not pointing fingers at my friends who did that. It’s money on the table. It’s legal, it’s offered to me. [But] I couldn’t believe it was legal.

“I feel like people just don’t get that it translates into your tax dollars and my tax dollars. For all [state lawmakers’] concern about people who are struggling, they’re not too concerned about tax[ing] the hell out of them.

“It’s crazy, but I still have a roof over my head and I can eat. I can pay those taxes. But it’s why everybody’s leaving Illinois.”

Jill Gruner
Rockford, Illinois