Teacher offers ‘counterbalance’ to Hilmer’s take on retirement system

To the editor:

As I read the Aug. 25 edition of the Call, I hope that I was not the only individual who noticed the irony that it contained an article about Lindbergh Schools’ Teacher of the Year Eric Cochran on one page and on the next page a prominently displayed opinion column written by Aaron Hilmer that lambasted the Missouri Public School Retirement System as a “Ponzi scheme.”

It certainly was strange to see an article praising the work of a dedicated educator juxtaposed with the opinions of a man who clearly harbors deep-seeded animosity toward public school teachers, a fact that he attempted to hide by only referring to “teachers’ unions” as “self-serving” in his article to avoid calling out inspirational professionals like Mr. Cochran — Mr. Hilmer, who do you think makes up the membership of teachers’ unions?

When discussing the teachers’ retirement system, let us look at some important points that I believe provide a counterbalance to Mr. Hilmer’s statements:

• Mr. Hilmer always turns to former Mehlville Superintendent Terry Noble as his evidence of the too-generous pensions paid by the system. What Hilmer doesn’t focus on is that the vast majority of those invested in the system are not earning large pensions on the scale of a retired superintendent. They are average teachers that have paid upwards of 15 percent of their salaries over their careers to earn the benefits.

• Mr. Hilmer brings up that the pension system is underfunded by $8 billion as proof of the systems fiscal problems. In reality, the system is almost 80 percent funded and has only recently experienced losses due to the financial crisis — a crisis that was not caused by teacher pensions, but instead by the fiscal greed of Wall Street bankers who I am sure will have no problem retiring as they continue to receive record bonuses after destroying our nation’s economy. The Missouri teachers’ retirement system has always been ranked as one of the best state-managed plans in the nation and nothing Mr. Hilmer says will change that.

• Finally, Mr. Hilmer attempts to gain support for his position by playing the “poor private sector workers don’t get pensions like teachers, so we should end this for our state’s educators” card. Mr. Hilmer is correct, most private employees don’t receive a pension. I contend that this is actually OK. Giving teachers, the people that do what is arguably the most important job in our nation by educating its children, a decent pension is a way that our society can thank them for their service and for helping the children of Missouri reach the promise of a better future by preparing them for life beyond high school. Teachers have become, for some strange reason, the whipping posts for all that is wrong with our society. This is shameful considering we traditionally have respected them as pillars of the community.

I will conclude with some questions for Mr. Hilmer.

If being a teacher truly allows one access to lavish rewards and a lifestyle that those in the private sector could only dream of, why is our nation facing a shortage of teachers? Why do 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession after five years of service? Why do the top graduates at universities around the country choose not to become teachers?

I guess it must be because they really want to tough it out in the underpaid, under-pensioned private sector.

Good thing they have Mr. Hilmer to stick up for them by pointing out the greed of our state’s educators.

Paul Stanley

Concord

Editor’s note: Mr. Stanley is a teacher in the Rockwood School District.