BGA Investigation: Community College Pensions ‘Run Amok’

CHICAGO (CBS) — They’ve been called the poster children for a system run amok. The Better Government Association has found retired community college teachers bringing in six-figure retirement checks – earning far more state money in retirement than they did on the job.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine has more on the names and numbers.

John Swalec, former President Waubonsee Community college, collected $1.9 million in 10 years of retirement after contributing just $146,000.

George Jorndt, former Triton College President, got $1.8 million in 10 years of retirement. His total contribution was $180,000.

bga logo BGA Investigation: Community College Pensions Run Amok

Better Government Association logo. (Credit: BGA)

Peter Remus, retired math chair at the Chicago City Colleges, collected $581,000 in three years. He contributed $183,000.

“This is a great example of a system run amok,” BGA Executive Director Andy Shaw said. Retirees now get 80% of their final salary after 34 years and yearly 3% cost of living increases – all free from state tax.

College of DuPage President Bob Breuder could have been eligible for a huge state pension, but he opted for a 401(k) instead.

“I can sit off on the side and look what’s happening and be, frankly, dismayed at what I see happening in this state.

In two years at DuPage, he has doubled the reserve to over $100 million, while embarking on an ambitious building program — in part by taking a tough stance on employee benefits. He feels the state lawmakers should do the same thing.

“We have a bill and I can assure you that the opposition – from the groups, from state employees and the university employees – is huge,” said Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) ”But what you have to say to those folks is, if you do nothing, there may not be a system down the road.”

From thousands of pages of state records the BGA obtained through a request under the Freedom of Information Act, it found more than 1,400 retirees who collected more than $500,000 each. And nearly 500 of them collected more than $100,000 a year.

“It’s a great job. You could pay them half as much and have people standing in line for those jobs,” said pension consultant Bill Zettler.

He said that the average 66-year-old private sector retiree collects $28,000 a year in Social Security. A 66-year-old community college retiree collects $128,000 a year, plus those cost of living increases.

“You can get rid of that 3 percent. That’s a lot of money,” he said. “Throughout the system, that would cost about $250 million a year.”

Shaw said that, “One school of thought says you can’t change any benefits for current employees,” citing a provision in the Illinois Constitution that says government employee pensions in Illinois are contractual obligations “the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

But Shaw said another school of thought says “Try it and test in court. The Better Government Association says let’s reform pensions and then take it to court if necessary.”

No one is suggesting cutting current state retirees’ pensions or take away benefits people have already earned – only that we can no longer afford the generosity of the past and that unless we scale way back on future benefits, there may eventually be no money for anyone.

You can read the entire Better Government Association report on pensions in the Thursday morning Chicago Sun-Times.

CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall contributed to this report.

More from Jay Levine
  • Taxpayer

    Good Job, BGA. No wonder the system is f-ed up when after 2 yrs, you are paid back the $ you put in. Then, let the gravy train begin as the recipient lives another 30 yrs. You do the math. It’s not like they have this wonderful retirement benefit because they are only paid only 25k/yr. We must contact our state legislators and tell them immediate changes must be made.

  • Sickened

    We keep hearing these stories but nothing is changing. Quinn knows all this so what does he do? Raise the state income tax to pay for more of it. It’s never going to stop because the receipients are the ones that need to change it and they’re not going to take away something they’re going to get.

    Some legislators need to get the stones to move the rirement age to 65 like everyone else. Cap benefits to $75k max. Don’t give is the garbage they won’t be able to get qualfied people. We already have unqualified people and have the lavish pensions and rediculous salaries.

  • Justice for all

    Hey BGA what about the state and Federal polititicians who serve ONE term in office and collect full pensions with free insurance ,now that is anews worthy
    item that needs to be stopped at the people in this article worked for 30 years or more!!!
    C`mon Levine and Shaw jump on the right investigation !!!!!

  • SN1789

    except for one faculty all of the examples come from the administration. CC admin salaries have risen as CEO salaries in the private sector, with no relationship to valued added by the admin/CEO. Also, Brueder has been getting paid to do nothing by Harper since he left there and went to DuPage. Brueder in particular is an overpaid windbag and bully. He is part of the problem, not the solution. No administrator should be paid more than the 12 month equivalent of the highest paid faculty.

  • Linda Elsey

    The ones getting the benefits should be ashamed for being so greedy and undeserving. It’s not like the kids now-a-days get a good education, some can’t spell, do simple math or know anything about History. Take it to court, get it all cut back to reason.

  • mike

    Typical. This is a retread of Ronald Reagan’s invention of the “Welfare Queen”. Find the most egregious examples you can and paint everyone involved with the same brush. There is a continuing attack on pensions of any kind just underscored by Gov. Perry in last night’s debate. The vast majority of teachers and public employees earned those pensions, the crisis is not the system but the LEGISLATURE under funding the system back in the fat days.

    This story is not news but Chamber of Commerce propaganda.

  • mike

    What I see in common is Community College Presidents hired by dilettant, elected boards of trustees. Until we change the governing structure these unqualified boobs will continue to run the Community College system into the ground.

  • Fact Checker

    Why wasn’t a representative of SURS interviewed for the facts? A typical retiree from the Community College system has opted out of Social Security and has only the pension from SURS for retirement. The higher education pension system was built into the state constitution to protect the contributions from the greed and mismanagement of the state legislature. This system is better off because while the state consistently opts out of making their contribution in violation of the law, faculty and administrators have an automatic deduction that has been increased over the years. Their contributions are protected by law. If you want to bring a lawsuit, it should be against the state of Illinois for failing to meet their obligations to their educators. I do not think legislators or citizen watch-dog groups want that, they just want the taxpayers burden lifted. Well, it has been lifted everytime the state does not pay their legally obligated share.

    • Bob

      I’d opt out of social security in a minute to get 75% of my pay, retire at 52 instead of waiting until I’m 66 for my 26k benefit.

      So quit that stupid argument that all these “cant do without” public workers give up social security like they did something heroic & couragous.

      • Not a choice

        Public employees did not give up social security by choice. Our fine legislators made that decision for them, so even if a public employee has contributed to SS, they won’t have a retirement income from their efforts.

    • Nauseated

      Alot of people get their pink slips when they get into their 50’s but not public workers. If they get layed off (a rarity) and they’re in their 50’s, they just retire and walk away with a lavish pension.

      Another thing we keep hearing is how much public workers put into the system. They put next to nothing as the article shows. Put in peanuts and get out lobster.

  • Tired of Sour Grapes

    The pensions are in trouble because the State of Illinois has used the pension system as a credit card and has failed over many years to pay its portion. This would be a non issue, if the State of Illinois did what it was supposed to do. Who voted to not fund the pension systems? The same legislators who are trying to change the pension systems now and spending more money than the State was taking in. We are all good at playing the blame game and the grass always looks greener on the other side of the septic tank. How come all those people who are slamming public employees, did not choose to go into those professions when the economy was so great? One could make more money doing something else, and now that those other high paying jobs are no longer existent, than lets take the pensions away from the public employees.

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