May 24, 2005

Texas Legislature Disrespects Teachers

Well, the Texas Legislature has done it. They have once again kicked the teachers in the teeth and said we don't mean squat to them.

Look at this story about the future of teacher retirement benefits.

Legislation aimed at stabilizing the $91 billion Teacher Retirement System won tentative House approval Monday, despite some claims that it pits active teachers against retired teachers.

Rep. Craig Eiland, the House sponsor of the measure, said if lawmakers do nothing to change the system, retired teachers won't be able to get a retirement payment increase for the next 12 to 15 years.

They haven't had one since 2001, he said.

It's also important to preserve the system as a defined benefit plan as opposed to a defined contribution plan, said Eiland, D-Galveston.

The system covers about 850,000 employees and about 240,000 retirees. The fund has $11 billion of unfunded liabilities and is 88 percent funded.

The bill would increase the retirement age to 60 from 55, although the change would affect only teachers who start working on or after September 2007.

It also attempts to stop incentives for early teacher retirement.

"We cannot afford it," Eiland said. "The whole purpose of this bill is to change retirement patterns, retirement behavior."

The proposal would change the base of retirees' benefits to the highest five years of their salary instead of the highest three.

Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, tried unsuccessfully to change that provision of the proposal.

"These are tough votes," McReynolds said. "It kind of pits us between our active teachers and our retired teachers." But in the end he voted for the bill, which tentatively passed 115-16. Some others who criticized parts of the bill abstained from voting.

Senators approved a similar proposal last week. If the Senate does not agree with changes made on the House side, a committee of a few lawmakers from each chamber will meet to work out the differences.

Later retirement. Lower benefits. A continued refusal of the state to make up the state contributions that were reduced more than a decade ago, creating this fiscal shortfall. We are still paid below state average, and the one "perk" that has been discussed this year will not start until after many teachers quit the classroom and will not benefit childless teachers or those who enter the classroom later in life or with older children.

Consider this retirement plan change, for a group of part-timers who make only $7200 a year plus their per diem when they meet in odd number years.

Senators and representatives earn $7,200 a year for their part-time jobs. They receive $128 per day for expenses during the 140 days they meet every other year.

The low pay is a result of Texas founding fathers' desire for citizen-legislators who would bring their real world experience to their law-writing duties.

But while the pay is low, the benefits can be good. The state pays for health insurance for lawmakers and their families.

Retired lawmakers can begin collecting pensions at age 50 if they serve for at least 12 years. Under SB 368, a retired official with 12 years' experience would get $6,431 more a year for a total pension of $34,500. Benefits increase with each year of service.

So the legislators, with their fully funded health insurance (like other state employees -- except teachers, who would be "too expensive to include" despite being promised equivalent benefits over a decade ago), will see an increase in their pension nearly equivalent to their entire annual salary. That will push their annual benefit above what many teachers get from TRS, and their retirement age and years of service are both lower than those of teachers.

Yep, you folks really have showed what great value you place on teachers.

|| Greg, 05:38 AM || Permalink

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