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Who Knew? Huberman told 'Public Participation' part of the July 22 Board meeting that CPS wasn't asking for a 'pension holiday' (but didn't tell anyone else?)

A brief exchange between a Whitney Young High School teacher and Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman during the public participation portion of the July 22 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education briefly revealed a major political change in CPS policy — and the fact that nobody else, including members of the Board and the major players in Chicago's huge teacher pension fund, knew.

Whitney Young High School teacher Jay Rehak (above, gripping podium) was surprised when Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman (seen above on the TV monitor) declared that the Chicago Board of Education was not lobbying in Springfield for a "pension holiday." The exchange took place during the public participation portion of the Board of Education meeting on July 22, 2009. The so-called "pension holiday" was a mainstay of the legislative agenda of Huberman's predecessor, Arne Duncan, and former Chicago Board of Educattion President Rufus Williams. Huberman replaced Duncan in January 2009. Daley forced Williams out of office in February 2009, when Michael Scott returned to the office of President of the Chicago Board of Education. When Rehak challenged the Board's position on the "pension holiday" (under which the Board could avoid paying mandatory payments into the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF), Huberman interrupted Rehak and proclaimed that the Board was not seeking a pension holiday. Huberman remained emotive later when Rehak asked why the Board was trying to create a "two tiered" pension system, like the one Huberman had created when he was President of the Chicago Transit Authority (his job prior to being appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley to head Chicago's public schools). Standing with Rehak during his presentation were CORE members (left to right around and behind Rehak), teachers Kristine Maylee, Kenzo Shibata (half hidden), Carol Caref, and Norine Gutekanst. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.At one point during his remarks to the Board, Whitney Young High School teacher Jay Rehak, who has announced that he will be a candidate for one of the two positions of teacher trustee of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF) in the October election this year, told the Board that it should not continue to demand a "pension holiday".

Rehak was immediately interrupted by CEO Ron Huberman. Huberman stated unequivocally, "CPS is not asking for a pension holiday." A brief back-and-forth took place, as the puzzled Rehak looked as if he were trying to understand a bit of unprecedented news.

For more than two years, under former Board of Education President Rufus Williams and former Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan, the Chicago Board of Education's legislative agenda in the Illinois State Capital, Springfield, has been to ask for a "pension holiday." As of the July 22, 2009, meeting of the Board, nobody had been told in public that the Board, if Huberman is accurate, had changed its legislative priorities significantly. Nothing in the public record has indicated such a major change in the Board's legislative agenda.

Apparently, no one from the Board of Education has told any other the other major players in Chicago school politics, so Rehak's surprise at Huberman's statement was understandable. Two members of the Board (Peggy Davis and Alberto Carrero) sit on the CTPF Trustees, and there is no indication in the public record that CTPF has been informed that CPS is no longer pushing for the controversial legislation. Teachers pension supporters have devoted a great deal of time and energy during the past two years to lobbying against the Chicago Board's "pension holiday" proposal.

A visit to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF) website (www.CTPF.org) on June 30, more than one week after the Board meeting, showed that the major issues the fund is bringing to the attention of its members is the push to block the Board's attempt to legislate a pension holiday (meaning, Chicago would not be required to pay its allocation into the CTPF).

As of the end of July, CTPF was still reporting to its members that a major priority of the fund was to block the CPS request for a "pension holiday".

Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ron Huberman (above, left) became animated during Jay Rehak's presentation regarding the $10 billon Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF). When Rehak charged that Huberman was continuing the policy of his predecessor (Arne Duncan) in asking for legislation for a "pension holiday" (under which CPS would be relieved of its obligation to pay into the teachers' pension fund), Huberman unequivocally stated that the Board was not seeking such a pension holiday. Later, when Rehak charged that teachers suspected that Huberman would force a two tiered pension system on Chicago's public school teachers (with new teachers paying more into the fund but standing to receive fewer retirement benefits later, and at a much later age), Huberman proclaimed — without providing the data which he supposedly uses to perform his duties — that the taxpayers of Illinois would be broke if they were to be required to honor all of the future obligations that might arise under the various public pension funds. Legislation to created a two-tiered system for Chicago failed in the Illinois General Assembly last session, but only because of intense lobbying from pension supporters. Huberman, when he was chief at the Chicago Transit Authority, was successful in forcing the transit workers' unions into accepting the controversial two-tiered system there. Substance photograph by George N. Schmidt.The meeting of the CTPF trustees of July 16, 2009, had not been posted at the CTPF website as of the writing of this article. No mention of the withdrawal of the legislative demand for a "pension holiday" was reported to the fund's trustees at the fund's June meeting, according to the report of the fund's lobbyists.

There is also no mention of the change on the Website of the Retired Teachers Association of Chicago (RTAC), which has one of the most powerful lobbies in Springfield devoted to protecting Chicago teacher pensions.

The Web site of the Chicago Teachers Union (www.ctunet.com) continues to provide the public and CTU members with as little information as possible. At deadline for this story, the CPS Office of Communications had not informed the public or the press that CPS had withdrawn its demand for the pension holiday. Communications Department press releases during the week following the July 22 Board meeting included a major press release praising a local media agency for doing volunteer wok in certain schools, but there was no mention of the withdrawal of the pension holiday legislation. Nor was there any further mention of the withdrawal of the demand for the pension holiday during the rest of the July 22 Board of Education meeting. At the time of Huberman's exchange with Rehak, no Board member asked additional questions. At the end of the Board meeting, when the Board convened following its secret executive session meetings, there was no discussion at all as the Board approved all but two Board Reports on its regular agenda in less than 15 minutes without discussion or debate. During the recent sessions of the Illinois General Assembly, the Chicago Board of Education and its lobbyists promoted both the so-called "pension holiday" and legislation that would have established the two-tiered pension system for Chicago teachers. Both proposals failed to be passed into law, but not because of lack of effort on the part of CPS. 

Final edited version of this article posted at www.substancenews.net July 30, 2009, 4:00 a.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., www.substancenews.net. Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.



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