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Opinion

CEO needs some help with his homework

Forrest Claypool, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, needs to do his homework.

In a Feb. 15 interview on a local public radio program on WBEZ-FM, a caller asked Mr. Claypool: “I've never been able to get a good sense of what the average Chicago teacher pension amount is. I do sense it is quite generous ... What is the average? I've seen it range anywhere from over $42,000 to over $70,000.”

In response, Mr. Claypool said, “I can't give you great specifics here without doing the research.”

Mr. Claypool's response is unacceptable for a CEO who is a leader in negotiating contracts with the Chicago Teachers Union. He should know the answer. Such a response doesn't inspire confidence in his leadership.

We were curious ourselves about the answer. A 2016 report from the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund showed the average annual payment in 2015 was about $46,947 for a member who retired with 28 years of service.

Pension contributions represent a significant amount of the Chicago Public Schools' budget, according to the CPS comprehensive annual financial report for its fiscal year ended June 30, 2016.

The $687 million in pension contributions represents 30% of teacher payroll covered by the retirement plan.

The $1.4 billion in pension payouts by the Chicago Public School Teachers' Pension & Retirement Fund in the fiscal year equals 58% of the $2.4 billion CPS paid in teacher salaries.

The CPS estimated required pension contribution for the 2017 fiscal year, ending June 30, is $745 million, a 17% increase from the 2016 fiscal year, according to the pension fund's 2016 annual report. In fiscal 2018, the pension fund report estimates the required contribution at $760 million.

There is a lot of homework for CPS leadership to do. The members of the leadership should start cracking the books, that is, the financial reports, so they can answer simple questions from taxpayers.

This article originally appeared in the March 20, 2017 print issue as, "CEO needs some help with his homework".