You may remember that some weeks ago I wrote about the Texas Legislature's disrespect of teachers. Well, they are at it again. Those changes in retirement rules for new teacher are going to be extended to ALL teachers -- even those already in the system -- under legislation considered likely to pass during this special session on education (by the way -- there is still no education budget or revised tax scheme -- the original purpose of this special session that ends next week).
A separate bill the Senate may debate later this week would make several changes to the Teacher Retirement System, including raising the minimum retirement age to 60.
Linda Bridges, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, said the bill "is taking us backwards in our efforts to attract and retain quality teachers."
"The Teacher Retirement System deserves to be solvent. We need to pass a bill so that the Teacher Retirement System doesn't look like Social Security and we have to stand up here and say it's going to be bankrupt in 10 years," [Senate Finance Committee Chair Steve] Ogden said.
Well, Steve, maybe if the state quit funding the system at the statutory minimum percentage (as it has done on an "emergency basis" for the last 10 years) and took the funding level back up to its traditional level at which it was designed to function, then there would be no problem. You would not have to monkey with the plans of teachers approaching retirement -- nor would you have to engage in a practice which federal law bans in the private sector, namely changing the terms of a pension agreement for currently covered workers.
Listen we already make around $6000 a year below the national average, and you balanced the last budget (for the 2003-2004 biennium) on the backs of teachers by cutting our health insurance stipend in half (effectively a $500 annual "teacher tax" out of each of our pockets) and still haven't restored the money for the new biennium as we were promised, nor have you found the cash for an increase in teacher salaries. Retiree health insurance are more expensive because of legislative tinkering. Don't screw around with our retirement benefits as well! And I say that as a teacher who plans on being into the classroom significantly past the minimum retirement age.
But somehow, you have managed to find the dollars to fund this little measure, one that didn't make it through the regular session of the legislature.
The House and Senate haven't agreed on how to cut school property taxes, but both chambers approved bills Tuesday that would boost their own pensions.
The House used a nonrecorded voice vote Tuesday to pass a bill to raise judicial pay and lawmakers' pensions, while Senators voted on the record with two senators casting "no" votes on similar legislation.
Since 1975, legislative pensions have been calculated as a portion of a district judge's salary.
Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, said judicial salaries need to be increased to keep experienced judges from leaving the bench for private practice. But he said he cast a "protest vote" against the bill because it links a district judge's salary to lawmakers' pension benefits.
"I'm just down on that," said Janek.
Currently, lawmakers earn $7,200 a year in pay, and retired lawmakers can begin collecting pensions at age 50 if they have served for at least 12 years.
Under the House and Senate bills, 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.
In other words, you cannot take care of teachers and will vote for measures that cost us money and do nothing to properly compensate us for what you people keep claiming is one of the most important jobs in the state -- but you can guarantee yourself a pension from your PART-TIME JOB that is approximately equal to the state minimum salary for a full-time classroom teacher who has ten years of classroom experience! And you get to retire at age 50 with 12 years of service -- a "Rule of 62" rather thant the current "Rule of 80" that teachers must meet or the "Rule of 90" that you are seeking to impose with this new legislation. Oh, yeah -- and our benefits are equal to only about 70% of our annual salary, not 480% of our annual salary like you guys will be getting. And might I also mention that your annual pension increase approximates the dollar figure by which Texas teachers are paid below the national average.
So I have a message to Texas legislators -- SCREW YOU! You seem intent to keep on screwing me.