Skip to Content

Reaching the End of the Road at an Illinois ESP Conference

By Dave Arnold

It’s no fun getting old, but I find great comfort in seeing old friends, meeting new people, and planning for retirement. Those three elements came together for me recently at the education support professionals (ESPs) conference sponsored by the Illinois Education Association (IEA).

I spent almost five hours driving from my home in Brownstown, Illinois, to Oak Brook, a Chicago suburb where the conference was held. For a man approaching age 60, that is no easy task. But it was worth it.

In addition to the fellowship, I knew the conference would offer fresh information on how to do my job better and the latest ideas and insights about education and labor issues. There was one workshop in particular that got my attention: “Preparing for Retirement.”

When I first started attending National Education Association conferences more than 20 years ago, I ignored anything concerning retirement. Not anymore. My lower back sometimes reminds me that it is time to plan for retirement, and by the way, the sooner the better.   

I was very pleased to see the facilitator of this session was an old friend, Max Bochmann. Max’s leadership and professional achievements are too lengthy to describe here, but one reason he was chosen to facilitate this session is because he served as chairman of the board of trustees of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF).

When Max, a retired school bus driver, began his session, I was somewhat surprised at what he said. Rather than lecture about how a person should invest their money in preparation for retirement, he offered general, common-sense advice.

First, we all pay into social security. “What about other retirement funds,” Max asks. “What do you intend to do with those?” In Illinois, school support staff pay into social security and the IMRF, which can be used for retirement along with social security benefits. In many cases, if a person has logged enough work years, this combination provides the recipient with a total retirement benefits package equivalent to income earned while on the job.

Second, in many states, ESPs pay into a 401 (k) retirement plan. If they retire on a 401(k) plan, they need to look at the total value of their plan and determine what percentage of that they can spend each year and how long it is likely to last. A person retiring before they are eligible for Medicare will likely need to pay for health insurance. This cost can be a tremendous financial burden for many people. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced cost‑of‑living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2014.  Some pension limitations such as those governing 401(k) plans and IRAs will remain unchanged because the increase in the Consumer Price Index did not meet the statutory thresholds for their adjustment. See more about pension plan limitations at the IRS Web site.

Third, some folks might want to wait until they are eligible for Medicare before they retire. But, with the Affordable Care Act, you might find affordable insurance coverage and opt to retire before Medicare-age.

Max stated that a person must look at the cost of living in their area. Property taxes, local sales taxes, and the cost of living in an area are critical in light of a retiree’s fixed income. Fourth, Max recommended that folks compare the size of their home to their actual shelter needs. For example, he said that everyone in the room should consider projected house maintenance costs. He recommended that some ESPs should consider selling their house and moving to an area which offers affordable housing and a low cost of living.

One of my old friends who attended the session is retiring and following Max’s advice. He plans to sell his place in the Chicago area and move to a southern state with a low cost of living. He also wants to be near his daughter and grandchildren. So, I likely will not see him again any time soon if at all.

In a way, the ESP conference brought him and me together and then set us apart. Still, it was worth the drive to visit with him, Max, and other educators who love their jobs serving students but know they must plan for their next stage in life.

##

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at darnoldjanitor@yahoo.com.)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.


Dave Arnold: This school custodian and former Illinois Education Association ESP of the Year is a published poet. But most Association members know him best from the editorials -- Dave's View --