Earlier this year, in a suburban Chicago community that’s similar to Geneva in many ways, the Community High School Class of 1987 held its 25-year reunion in the decorated gym. Two old friends from the class, who still live in their home town but haven’t seen each other much since graduation, are enjoying comparing notes and reliving their glory days at Community High. Timmy and Vickie (names changed to respect privacy) had appeared in high school musicals together, and were in a circle of friends who hung out at the local mall in the summers.
[DJ playing music in the background.]
Hey you, get in to my car
Yes you, get in to my car
TIMMY: Hey Vickie, you still look the same, maybe even better. Life must be good for you.
VICKIE: You do too. What’s new with you?
TIMMY: Busy with the kids; they’re both in middle school. Soccer, music lessons. They’re great kids.
VICKIE: My two are in high school—our old high school. It’s changed a lot. I thought they might have some of our old teachers for the same subjects, but most of our teachers are gone.
TIMMY: Where’d they go?
VICKIE: They retired.
TIMMY: Gee, most of them didn’t seem that old when we had them. Remember how young our senior year sociology teacher was? The boys nicknamed her “Miss Illinois.” She was a very attractive young lady.
Who's that lady
Coming down the road
VICKIE: She was 34 years old, but she looked much younger. She was a good teacher and really cared about her students. I learned a lot from her.
TIMMY: Oh, I did too. I really liked her as a teacher; she did a good job. And nice lookin.’
Get outta my dreams
Get in to my car
VICKIE: So what are you doing now?
TIMMY: Well, I’m hoping to do better soon. It’s been hard. I’ve been downsized from two jobs, and I was unemployed for almost a year. Now I feel lucky to have job that pays 30 percent less than I made in my last job, with so-so benefits and no pension. I have to save for our own future, but we’re living paycheck to paycheck. Remember I went to a so-so college—that’s all my parents could afford. Employers are not impressed.
VICKIE: Yeah, I feel we got an expensive primary and secondary education, and then our parents couldn’t afford to pay for tuition at the better colleges. I work part time—that’s all I can get for now. No benefits, no pension. I hope Social Security is still around when I turn 67 and retire. That is, if I can retire.
I know it's been some time
But there's something on my mind
You see, I haven't been the same
Since that cold November day.
VICKIE: Speaking of retirement, I learned that “Miss Illinois” retired in June.
TIMMY: Wow, already?! ikes!
VICKIE: Well, she was 59, and that’s the typical retirement age for teachers in the school district. I looked up her pension on a website a friend told me about, openthebooks.com. She is making more in pension in her first year of retirement than either my husband or I have ever made for a year of working. And her pension automatically increases 3 percent every year. In 20 years it will have almost doubled. That’s typical of the teachers.
Where do broken hearts go
Can they find their way home
Back to the open arms
Of a love that's waiting there
TIMMY: That hurts, because I know who’s paying most of her pension.
VICKIE: Yep, you and me. And your wife, and my husband. Your children, my children. Our property taxes have gone up every year. Recession, bad economy, high unemployment—it doesn’t matter. Our property taxes go up, up, up to pay for the schools.
TIMMY: Yes, that’s awful. But the worst part is, our state income taxes went up 67% last year, and from what I read in the papers, they will be going up big-time again. Because the income tax pays the pensions. Miss Illinois will be living mostly off our income tax payments for the next 20 years.
VICKIE: What I hear from many of our old group is that they are struggling with the burden of taxes, fighting a losing battle in trying to give their children what they need to get ahead. These are good, hard-working people. They deserve a fair shake.
And if somebody loves you
Won't they always love you
I look in your eyes
And I know that you still care, for me
VICKIE: Oh, I have warm memories from that song our senior year.
But, back to reality … . As I said, I have no pension. No one is going to pay for my retirement but me. We don’t own the Springfield politicians; the teachers’ unions do. They pay the pols off, and have for half a century. I learned that from watching TV news and doing a lot of studying, including a very good book my dad lent me, Illinois Pension Scam. He got it from the website championnews.net. He also lent me another book from the Brookings Institution: Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools. My dad, who has done even more research than I have, explained that Illinois’ public school teachers have been 50 percent overpaid in total compensation packages for decades. And with pensions going on and on into the future, it’s the abuse that keeps on abusing.
TIMMY: That’s why we pay, pay, pay; taxes, more taxes, higher taxes. I don’t know how I’ll ever afford to send my own kids to college. I feel sick over the thought that they may not have even the limited opportunities I had.
All you got is this moment
Twenty-first century’s yesterday
You can care all you want
Everybody does, yeah, that’s ok
TIMMY: Listen. Remember how some of the daring kids used to do the grind at school dances in this gym?
VICKIE: Yeah, I remember one time by that free throw line over there I ….
So slide over here
And give me a moment
Your moves are so raw
I’ve got to let you know
I’ve got to let you know
You’re one of my kind
TIMMY: Got it. And then we’d do some other things at parties in basements. I feel we’re being grinded by taxes now, and it’s just going to get worse.
I need you tonight
Cause I’m not sleeping
VICKIE: That’s the corrupt politicians. A perfect example is our last two governors, both now serving serious time in Club Fed. Thirty Chicago aldermen have been convicted of crimes of corruption. A lot of politicians are for sale, and the teachers’ unions have been buying them for decades, at bargain prices to get outrageous pensions and gouge the citizens.
TIMMY: I learned through my own jobs that hardly anyone in private business gets a pension anymore, but almost all government union employees get a Cadillac pension. Then we and our children are stuck with the bill for the rest of our lives. The property taxes are probably going to drive me and our family out of town, and we may have to move out of Illinois because of the income taxes.
Well I lived on the outskirts of town
In an eight room farmhouse, baby
When my brothers and friends were around
There was always somethin' doin'
VICKIE: Back in 1987, I had no idea what a pension was. I knew what was in the purse that I carried to classes, but I had no idea how much the teachers made or what their benefits were. I would have thought the more they got the better. I had no idea what my own dad made. He told me recently he does not get a pension, and very few workers had pensions when he was working. He gets a small Social Security amount since he retired a few years ago at 65. A lot of good people who worked hard until 65 are in the same boat.
That's when a sport was a sport
And groovin' was groovin'
And dancin' meant everything
We were young and we were improvin'
TIMMY: When I was in school I had no idea what kind of money and benefits various jobs paid. I was into music and sports. And chicks. I didn’t know how much health care would cost, and how valuable the teachers’ free health insurance would be. Our family health insurance costs are through the roof now.
Laughin', laughin' with our friends
Holdin' hands meant somethin', baby
Outside the club the Cherry Bomb
Our hearts were really thumpin'
VICKIE: I see that Pat Quinn has been saying that Illinois’ government leaders can’t continue on this path at the expense of Illinois’ children. He’s talking about the government union pensions, and he is so right.
Seventeen has turned thirty-five
I'm surprised that we're still livin'
TIMMY: We’ve got to do something about this. We’ve got to stand up and fight for our children.
Got a few kids of my own
And some days I still don't know what to do
VICKIE: Hey, I’ll work with you if you do something on this. We’ve got to start with the School Board. They set the salaries, and the salaries lock in the pensions. Our message has to be: Pay the teachers fairly, but also treat the citizens fairly. Long-term commitments have long-term consequences.
TIMMY: You know, I liked my teachers back then and I still do. I like my childrens’ teachers now. They do a good job, and they work hard. They deserve fair payment. But that doesn’t mean we should overpay them by 50 percent and suffer the rest of our lives for it, and have our children suffer even more.
VICKIE: Now that we’re middle aged, we’re Tim and Vic. We’ve learned a lot more about what’s going on between the corrupt politicians and the teachers’ unions. It’s ugly, but now I realize that ever since we started school, you and I have been VIC, TIM.
1. Get Outa My Dreams, Get Into My Car, Billy Ocean
2. Where Do Broken Hearts Go, Whitney Houston
3. Need You Tonight, INXS
4. Cherry Bomb, John Mellenkamp
To Jeff H:
I wish you good luck in all your future endeavors, and I hope you can go to your GHS 25-year reunion in 2038 knowing that you and your own family are doing well financially.