Chicago teacher pension trustees vote to keep teacher trustee seat 'open' after Rodriguez finally vacates seat as teacher trustee following June 30 retirement

The August 18, 2011, meeting of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF) lasted nearly six hours. There were many important economic issues that were confronted during the lengthy discussions and presentations. But before either the future of the fund (which is now being challenged for the first time in Chicago teacher pension history) or the dramatic losses in fund investments currently showing (as a result of the sudden decline in stock prices and the values of other assets), the 12 trustees of the fund had to devote another hour to the question of whether Maria Rodriguez, who had served nearly 12 years as an elected teacher trustee of the fund, should still be serving as a trustee (and fund vice president) following her June 30, 2011 decision to retire from her active duty teaching job and begin drawing her pension as a retired teacher.

Chicago Teachers Pension Fund Trustee Maria Rodriguez (above, second from left) insisted on being seated as a teacher trustee at the Fund's August 18 meeting, despite the fact that she had put in her papers to retire as a teacher on June 30, 2011. Only after the trustees voted on a policy proposal made by Kris Kotis (right, above) that effectively precluded filling the seat vacated by Rodriguez did Rodriguez leave the meeting. Later, the trustees voted in a tie vote not to fill the post of vice president of the fund, which Rodriguez had held. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Finally, after lengthy discussions, three things happened between the beginning and the end of the meeting.

One, after more than a month of unprecedented wrangling — which included a lengthy discussion at the fund's July 2011 meeting over whether Rodriguez was eligible to continue occupying the seat — Rodriguez acknowledged that she was no longer a teacher and left her seat as teacher trustee. Two, the remaining trustees voted not to fill the vacancy between the fund's August and November meetings, rather than screen candidates and fill the vacancy as early as the September meeting.

Three, at the close of the lengthy meeting, the trustees also voted not to fill the post of vice president of the fund in a tie vote between teacher trustee Jay Rehak and retiree trustee Mary Sharon Reilly.

When the meeting officially began some time after the official starting time of 9:30 a.m., all of the trustees were present except Whitney Young High School teacher Jay Rehak, who participated in the meeting by telephone.

The first portion of the meeting is the public participation, which heard from four people (including this reporter).

Several teachers and retired teachers attended the meeting, including McPherson Elementary teacher Pam Touras and Lane Tech teacher Tina Padilla (above). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Following the public participation, the trustees began a lengthy discussion, for the second month in a row, of how to handle the question of Rodriguez's participation in the meeting. Earlier, over the objections of teacher trustee Lois Ashford, the trustees had decided to call the roll, with Rodriguez still being recognized as a teacher trustee. After it was established clearly that Rodriguez would not be continuing as a teacher trustee, the trustees decided not to fill the vacancy that was created upon Rodriguez's exit. The vote later on whether to have a vice president for the fund until newly elected trustees were seated at the November meeting resulted in a tie between Jay Rehak, a teacher trustee, and Mary Sharon Reilly, a retiree trustee.

The reports on the financial status of the fund caused concern. Investments are down as the international financial markets continue to show the impact of economic worries. The total value of the Fund's assets has again dropped below $10 billion. A lengthy report by the fund's actuary projected the impact of the legislation, passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Governor Pat Quinn in April 2010. Under the newly established three level system for teacher retirement planning in Chicago, the current fund, which is more than 100 years old, will be slowly dwindling in size over the next 30 years.

There was also a brief report by CPS officials on the status of the Board of Education's attempts to provide the fund with accurate information regarding retirees. CPS is still catching up from three years ago, when changes in the CPS computer systems caused inaccuracies in the data being provided to the fund.

Alicia Winckler (above, with microphone) reported on the progress of the Board of Education's work to provide accurate information to the fund. Winckler told the trustees that she was now the "Talent Development Officer" at CPS, following a "rebranding" of her office (which had been called "Human Capital"). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Alicia Winckler, who had previously reported to the fund as the Board of Education's "Chief Human Capital Officer," was reporting on August 18, 2011, as the newly appointed "Chief Talent Development Officer." Winckler told the fund that the new CPS administration had hanged her office "brand" following dissatisfaction among her "consumers" with the previous brand designation ("human capital").

One of the trustees, Chicago Board of Education member Andrea Zopp, left the meeting early. The two Board of Education members serving as trustees devoted a great deal of their time during the meeting to reading from their personal computers.

Some of the controversy at the July and August 2011 meetings of the trustees has stemmed from the fact that five trustees will be elected in October, the largest number of any election. The fund's trustees are elected from the various groups represented by the fund (except for the two Board of Education members, who are selected by the Board from among its seven members). This year, an election in all the city's schools (including those charter schools whose teachers are members of the fund) will be held to electe two teacher trustees. John O'Brill's seat comes up for election, and the vacancy in the seat held by Maria Rodriguez will be filled as well.

In addition, the three retired teacher trustees are also up for election. The Retired Teachers Association of Chicago (RTAC) has already endorsed the three incumbent retired teacher trustees, Walter Pilditch, Mary Sharon Reilly, and James Ward. The election for retired teacher trustees is done by mail ballot.

All of the elections are done by the fund's staff. Nominating petitions are available at the fund's office at 203 N. LaSalle St. in Chicago. The deadline for filing nominating petitions is September 30. For teacher trustees, 200 signatures are requires on the nominating petitions. For retired teacher trustees, 100 signatures are required.

The Chicago Teachers Union can vote at its October House of Delegates meeting to recommend certain candidates to the membership, or it can not endorse. In one recent election, the House of Delegates decided that all teacher candidates were qualified and did not recommend any in particular. Should the House of Delegates decide to endorse candidates, the union can promote the candidates in the pages of the Chicago Union Teacher and even do a mass mailing on behalf of the candidates endorsed by a vote of the House of Delegates.


August 21, 2011 at 1:16 PM

By: Lou Pyster

Pension Meeting Clarification

The three-option bill, Senate Bill 512, did not pass. The discussion about the Fund slowly dwindling in size was centered on if Senate Bill 512 became law and the need to oppose the bill. The law you referred to that was signed by the governor was the two-tier law with the $1.3 billion pension contribution relief for the CPS. There was also a discussion of the CPS trying for more pension relief from Springfield and the need for the Pension Fund to respond to CPS' efforts. The continual pension relief will probably be more dangerous to the Fund than Senate Bill 512. That bill provides that the CPS must make its contributions to the Fund at a certain level. However, if the General Assembly excuses the CPS from its scheduled contribution, the Fund is obviously in danger. The Fund is now paying out more in benefits that it is receiving in revenue. This situation is in part the result of the pension contribution relief previously received by the CPS.

Kotik's motion established a policy as to what triggers a vacancy. One trigger is retirement from CPS. Therefore, Rodriguez's position was vacant.

One of the teachers named in the article, Tina Padilla, was CORE's candidate to replace Rodriguez in the vacancy if the vacancy was filled at the meeting.

Rodriguez will probably run for one of the three retiree trustee positions to be elected in the fall.

At the CTU retiree's meeting there will no doubt be petitions circulated for the retiree trustee positions.

August 21, 2011 at 1:30 PM

By: Lou Pyster

Correction and Addition

The name of the principal trustee is Chris Kotis.

The retiree's meeting is Monday, Aug. 22 at noon in the CTU office.

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