Chicago Teacher Pension Payday: Top Earners in 2017


Chicago homeowners will pay about $225 million more in property taxes this year to Chicago Public Schools, much of that going to fund teacher pensions. We take a look at teacher pension data for 2017.

The average Chicago teacher pension is about $49,000 a year, but there are more than 1,100 teachers who take home six-figure pensions.  

Here is a look at the top five pension payouts for 2017:

The highest payout went to Barbara Cameron, who took home a pension this year of more than $452,000. The Chicago Teachers Pension Fund says her normal pension is $67,000 and the rest was retroactive pay dubbed “Required Minimum distribution.” But the CTPF was not able to clarify further what exactly that means or why she was entitled to such a sizable payout.

The second-highest earner was Debra Blackmon-Parrish, a former elementary school teacher and teachers union delegate who was paid a $230,000 pension last year. The pension fund says some of that was retroactive pension pay as well.

Other notables on this list include former CPS superintendent Manford Byrd ($192,000 yearly pension) who retired more than 25 years ago; and Barbara Eason Watkins, who served as chief education officer behind Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman until 2009. In addition to her pension, she works currently as the head of the Michigan City school district.

Download our 2017 Chicago Teachers Pension Fund data


The top Chicago teacher pensions are actually lower than their suburban and downstate counterparts. There are a few reasons for this. All teachers outside of Chicago fall into the State Teachers’ Retirement System, and the top earners were over or around $300,000, topped off by indicted former Lincoln-Way superintendent Lawrence Wyllie, whose case is ongoing.

This pension fund includes all educators, not just teachers, but superintendents and administrators as well, who tend to earn higher salaries. The Chicago Teachers Pension Fund excludes most CPS administrators, who receive their pensions through the Chicago Municipal Employees Benefit and Annuity Fund instead.

Another is factor is the fact that Chicago both administers and pays for its teacher pensions. Downstate and suburban districts can boost an educator’s salary before they retire without having to worry about picking up the tab, because that responsibility falls on the state.

Despite the high value of some teacher pensions, there are other factors driving the system’s massive funding problem. Ralph Martire at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability says the entire pension crisis was created by lawmakers who constantly allowed government to either short or not pay into the system at all. Chicago Public Schools skipped pension payments in the CTPF every year from 1995 to 2005. The system, which had been 100 percent funded, is now around 50-55 percent funded and carries a $9 billion unfunded liability.

But the Civic Federation’s Laurence Msall says there are other drivers to the city’s enormous pension obligations. All Illinois pensioners, including Chicago teachers, receive 3 percent compounded cost-of-living raises every year. Msall says the funds can’t sustain such ballooning values, but efforts by Illinois lawmakers to modify those yearly raises were rejected by the state supreme court. Also, since 1980, Chicago teachers contribute relatively little to their pension: only 2 percent per year. The average social security contribution for private sector workers is a little over 6 percent. And other city retirees will soon by paying as much as 11.5 percent for their retirement, after the city negotiated modest benefit reductions to its four public pension systems.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz


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