Misuse of retirement fund concerns area teacher

Amanda Reavy

Allegations that Springfield businessman Bill Cellini conspired with others to use the state Teachers’ Retirement System fund to extort campaign contributions are “more than irritating,” said Williamsville High School science teacher Gary Miller.

“That (the TRS fund) is our money. We pay into that just like other folks pay into Social Security. It’s not a luxury,” said Miller, who also is on the board of directors of the Illinois Education Association and the National Education Association.

The $40 billion fund pays the pensions of retired downstate and suburban schoolteachers.

“We are definitely perturbed, let’s put it that way. There’s enough of a question about whether the pension, the funds, will be there when we get there,” Miller said, referring to his colleagues who are close to retirement age.

There are no allegations that Cellini or others stole from the fund, but Thursday’s indictment accuses Cellini of using his influence to have investment firms hired based on their political contributions.

Miller said most people don’t realize that many TRS members can earn only reduced Social Security benefits because of the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision. Therefore, the pension is crucial for their retirement.

After 31 years of teaching, Miller plans to retire in the near future. He said his TRS pension is largely the sole income he’ll receive, aside from personal tax shelter annuities, even though he paid into Social Security when he worked in construction before starting a teaching career.

“Because of the fact I chose to become a teacher, my Social Security benefits will be trivial,” Miller said. “Given the state of the economy today, my only retirement option is with TRS, so never mind that I’ve paid who knows how many countless dollars and what I get back is just a fraction. So that makes me doubly angry with what’s going on.”

Amanda Reavy can be reached at (217) 788-1525.