Friday, April 20, 2018

GUEST BLOG: My Story by Adrienne Gray Myers, Retired Educator

While on the Retired Texas Educators With TRS/Retirement Concerns Facebook group page recently, I read this post:

     The post had a profound effect on me.  I thought about the promises made to me and my fellow public education employees--teachers, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, school nurses, librarians, classroom aides, secretaries, administrators, social workers, maintenance workers, police officers, sign-language interpreters--throughout our careers, the promise of a decent pension (because most of us will not receive any social security) and affordable healthcare.  I also thought about my drive to Austin in 2013 to meet with a Teacher Retirement System of Texas representative before making my decision to retire.  I made my decision based on a promise--a CONTRACT--that I could budget my finances according to my pension AND that I could afford my healthcare.
     Look at us now.  The largest percentage of TRS members, 32 percent, only earn $1 - $1,000 a month!!!  How in the world can ANYONE making $1,000 a month afford a $1500 ($3000 if he/she is married) deductible that requires him/her to pay 100 PERCENT OUT OF POCKET on all doctors' visits, exams, AND prescriptions (except for a list of standard, generic drugs)??


     This healthcare nightmare began for us in January of 2018 following the 2017 Texas Legislative Session when the Texas Legislature appropriated DOUBLE the amount of money to ERS (Employees Retirement System of Texas, a retirement system for all OTHER state employees AND our legislators) that they gave to TRS, even though ERS has HALF the number of members.  In addition, the Texas Legislature also let ERS members keep their $0 monthly healthcare premium (ours is $200 and will go up over the next four years until it is $370 per month), their $0 healthcare deductible, AND their $50 prescription deductible.  In case you're keeping score, that's ERS $0 vs. TRS $200, ERS $0 vs. TRS $1500 (or, for married couples, $3000), and ERS $50 vs. TRS $1500/$3000.
     I realized when I read Adrienne's post that this is a REAL PERSON!  I reached out to her to see if she would mind if I shared her post, and she decided to write her entire post-2017-Legislative-Session healthcare story!
     If you search through my blog, you will see hers is my first GUEST BLOG.  Why?  Because these stories need to be told so people throughout Texas and throughout our country will understand what was promised and how those promises have been broken in the most shameful ways. 
     Adrienne--thank you for your bravery.  It takes courage to share intimate details about our health and about our personal lives.  It is your courage and the courage of so many others (Christy Curtis Reynolds, Judi Burroughs Thomas, Valerie Babbitt, Pam Thompson, Cindy Madison, and Blanca Benavidez Seeds, to name just a few) that have inspired ME to be RELENTLESS in this fight to have PROMISES MADE TO US KEPT!
     Here is Adrienne's story:

ADRIENNE'S STORY

            Hello. Let me introduce myself to you.

            I am Adrienne Gray Myers, a retired Texas educator with 35 years of experience in Texas public schools. I was a proud teacher with 24 years of classroom experience in grades pre-K through 8 and an administrator with 11 years of campus administration experience in grades pre-K through 12.

            My education started in the public school system in Longview, Texas. I am very proud of the education I received from Longview ISD and that pride was instilled within me during those formative years!! I was born and reared in Longview and am a proud East Texan and Longview Lobo!!


     I attended Stephen F. Austin State University, where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education grades pre-K through 8 with a reading minor and kindergarten, early childhood, gifted/talented endorsements.


     Later, I attended East Texas State University-Commerce, where I graduated with a Masters of Education in Educational Administration. My final educational quest is attending Texas A&M University-Commerce, where I am currently conducting research and completing my doctoral degree in educational administration.

            During my 35-year career, I had many accolades including being named Region VII Assistant Principal of the Year and one of three finalists for State Assistant Principal of the Year.



            I was honored to be nominated by several of my students for several years into the Who's Who in American Teachers. Governor Ann Richards recognized my work as an outside elementary science consultant for KERA/Texaco/Region X and XI ESC, and I was an active member and officer in the Texas Lions Club, which serves children internationally.




            I participated in writing curriculum and wrote two practice manuals for TAAS Language Arts for 3rd grade and TAAS Language Arts for 4th grade. I also wrote a practice manual for gifted/talented students, H.O.T.S. Higher Order Thinking Skills for 5th grade, and a summer school manual.
            I was also an outside consultant for Regions X and XI ESC, conducting science workshops on Saturdays.



            Summers were spent conducting workshops for teachers and space camps for students in the Region X and XI ESC.




            For 15 years of my 35-year career, my second job was driving a school bus before and after school. If I drove trips for band, athletics, etc., after school and/or Saturdays,  that was more money. While the group I had driven was performing, I sat and graded my many student papers.



            Many of my students experienced many successes. There were many newspaper recognition pictures and articles. Some had their writings published with the McDougal Littell The Language of Literature for grades 7 and 8.



            Then, an unexpected life event threw my world upside down. It not only affected my world but also my son's world.  (He lives with me.) I have been a single mother since my son was four. He was diagnosed with ADHD and later as a high-functioning autistic child. During his public school years, he was in special ed because he was LD in math. In high school, he overcame his math challenge and took AP classes in the sciences and in math; he graduated with honors. College was a struggle for him.  At age 30, he still struggles with his autism.


            My career ended five years ago when I was forced to retire due to a medical issue causing me to experience a lack of mobility. I could only use a cane in the beginning and now only a walker. The walker allows me to steady myself because I can only shuffle my feet to walk. I have trouble sitting, getting up, squatting to pick up something, and doing everyday things around the house.  My thigh bones pop in and out of their joints. I am unable to work right now to bring in extra money, as is my son who has trouble with social situations due to his autism.


            It has taken my doctors months to figure out what is wrong with me and the cause of the loss of my mobility.  In the fall of 2017, they decided I needed two hip surgeries and a lower-back surgery. We set up the hip surgeries for January, 2018, because there were not any surgery dates available before the end of the year.

            Knowing that on January 1, 2018, TRS members began a new insurance, I assumed our insurance would be comparable to our prior insurance. After finding out the amount of out-of-pocket money I would have to come up with before the new insurance would begin paying anything toward my medical expenses, I had to cancel my much-needed surgeries because I did not have money to pay my part up front. One hip surgery is approximately $40,000.
            I have been wiped out financially already due to all of the medical expenses leading up to the surgery before I had to unexpectedly retire because of my medical situation.
            With the new TRS insurance, I cannot afford to go to any doctor appointments or buy medicines.  Nor can I afford to pay for physical therapy for myself because of the high-priced, unaffordable insurance TRS has chosen for retirees. Now, I try to do my own physical therapy and walk around what little I can so I do not get stiff and immobile.
            At the beginning of my career, I was promised (at age 22 when I signed my first teaching contract) that when I was ready to retire from the education profession, I would have a pension to live comfortably off of and affordable health insurance in reward for all of my service to the State of Texas and its children and families. That promise was still made to me when I made the decision to retire.
            My brother bought me a walking cane in the beginning and has tried to keep my spirits high.
            Prior to the TRS insurance fiasco, the physical therapist moved me to a walker, and I am still on the walker. I am thankful that my son, brother, and friends are giving me support throughout this ordeal.



            As of now, I am trying to make the best of a very bad situation that has fallen upon me. I have to swallow my pride and get a shopping scooter at Wal-mart to do my shopping for the month. I have been fighting to stay moving and had hopes that I would have the much-needed surgeries so I could get back to an active lifestyle.  I am praying I do not have to join the “Scooter Club” at 63 years of age.


NOW, THERE WILL BE NO MORE....


                       Football games                                   Twirling at high-school reunions


                       Zip lining                                                               Caverns


                  
                                Tubing                                 Walking the Riverwalk in San Antonio



                I have experienced many losses, including my home that I owned and almost had paid off, along with the reorganizing, moving, and relocating of my family all prior to the upheaval that is now occurring with TRS healthcare and retirees’ pensions. I am not sure how many more losses my son and I can survive at this point.



            Respectfully, I request that all parties involved in the current decisions of the Texas Teacher Retirement System and the Texas education system please consider the effect your decisions will have on the active and retired educators and many others' lives if equal or more funding is not invested to help sustain the TRS members and the many teachers and children of the State of Texas.  Thank you.      










            

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Governor Abbott – AWAITING YOUR CALL FOR A SPECIAL SESSION!


Dear Governor Abbott,

I just read the statement you sent to the Texas Retired Teachers Association in response to their request to you, the run-off candidates for the Democratic place in the November General Election (Lupe Valdez and Andrew White), Lt. Governor Patrick, and his opponent (Mike Collier).  In that statement, you wrote…
·         …I want you to know that I understand issues that are important to retired educators.
·         …I know your health care costs and premiums increased.  (I would add an adjective before health care—dramatically.)
·         TRS-Care needs much more attention.
·         …95% of K-12 school employees do not participate in Social Security (I would modify this to read “95% of K-12 school employees do not have the option of participating in Social Security), meaning that their TRS annuity is their (YOUR—the statement is intended for TRTA members, and this is what we are already facing in our retirement) only source of retirement income
·         I know that many TRS annuitants have not received a pension increase since retiring.
·         I very much value those who work or have worked in education.  You are an important part of the fabric of Texas.  I appreciate your dedication and years of public service.

After reading this statement, Gov. Abbott, I am officially joining Senator Jose Menendez, Representative Terry Canales, and my fellow retired public education employees, including teachers, custodians, bus drivers, secretaries, nurses, cafeteria workers, classroom aides, librarians, maintenance workers, sign-language interpreters, administrators, social workers, and others who dedicated our lives and our careers to Texas children—and thus to the future of this state--in asking you to call a Special Session to address the healthcare nightmare we are living.

IF you truly understand the issues important to us—IF you know HOW MUCH our health care costs and premiums have increased—IF you know HOW MUCH attention TRS-Care needs—IF you know we cannot supplement our pensions with Social Security—IF you know most of us have not received a cost-of-living increase in many years…or ever—IF you sincerely value the years of our lives we dedicated to the children of this state, accepting a lower salary than we could have earned in the public sector with the promise of a delayed benefit in retirement of a pension and AFFORDABLE healthcare—IF you truly believe we are an important part of the fabric of Texas—IF you appreciate our dedication and years of public service---IF everything you wrote in this statement is true—then there is certainly no other option for you than to call a Special Session.  Doing so is your only change of preventing us from going through eight more months of suffering, anxiety, and the fear that we (or any of our colleagues) might lose our lives. 
We cannot wait eight months (until the start of the 2019 Legislative Session) and the months of meetings, negotiations, bills, amendments….

We expect you, as the governor of this state, to right the wrong that has been done to us.  We expect you to deliver on the state’s promise to us throughout our careers.  We expect you to show us the respect you allude to in your statement to TRTA.  We expect you to read every single case (see below—many more will be added.  Names have been removed.) of retired public school employees who, under your watch, are suffering, are discontinuing medically necessary treatments because they now cannot afford them, and are living in life-altering anxiety over being thrust into this untenable position.

Gov. Abbott, we await your response to Sen. Menendez, Rep. Canales, and to all of us who retired, believing the State of Texas’ promise.

Sincerely,

Christine Ardis
Retired Texas Teacher

STORIES OF ACTIVE AND RETIRED TRS MEMBERS LIVING THE
TRS-HEALTHCARE NIGHTMARE!
(Added to this blog 4-16-18 at 1:12 p.m.)





















































STORIES OF TRS RETIREES LIVING THE TRS-HEALTHCARE NIGHTMARE
(Added to this blog at 7:11 p.m., April 14, 2018)





























STORIES OF TRS RETIREES LIVING THE TRS-HEALTHCARE NIGHTMARE
(Added to this blog at 6:40 a.m., April 14, 2018)














STORIES OF TRS RETIREES LIVING THE TRS-HEALTHCARE NIGHTMARE
(Added to this blog at 7:06 p.m., April 13, 2018)
I received permission from the first two to use their names.  All of these individuals are REAL PEOPLE in your state, Gov. Abbott, people who dedicated their careers and their lives to the children of Texas:

















STORIES OF TRS RETIREES LIVING THE TRS-HEALTHCARE NIGHTMARE
(Added to this blog April 13, 2018)





































STORIES OF TRS RETIREES LIVING THE TRS-HEALTHCARE NIGHTMARE
(April 12, 2018)