Last Friday, public education employees and retirees across the state of Texas were dealt yet another blow. The board of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which is the retirement system for all public education employees---teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, librarians, custodians, nurses, secretaries, counselors,police officers, social workers, sign language interpreters, classroom aides, cafeteria workers, and administrators—voted to reduce the rate of return assumption from 8 percent to 7.25 percent, despite our pleas. We pleaded with them not to go lower than 7.5 percent, knowing that to do so would likely mean those of us who are retired would likely never see a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) and those still working in our schools could see a change in their future pensions. Keep in mind, the rate wasn’t lowered because our pension fund is performing so poorly. On the contrary. In 2017, TRS saw a 12 percent rate of return, which is considered stellar in the pension-fund world.
It was a split vote, with the four who, like us, have to live with TRS benefits voting against the 7.25. Trustee Dr. Greg Gibson made a motion to adopt a 7.35 percent rate of return assumption. It was seconded by Trustee Dick Nance. Gibson, Nance, Trustee Dolores Ramirez, and Trustee Nanette Sissney voted in favor of this motion. Chairman Jarvis Hollingsworth and trustees Joe Colonnetta, David Corpus, John Elliott, and Christopher Moss voted nay, so the motion failed. Elliott immediately made a motion to adopt a 7.25 percent rate of return assumption, and it was seconded by Corpus. Those two, along with Hollingsworth, Colonnetta, and Moss voted in favor, and in another split vote, Ramirez, Gibson, Nance, and Sissney voted against the motion. With a simple majority, the motion passed. Now, our only hope is for the Texas Legislature to increase their TRS contribution rate from the current 6.8 percent to 8.18 percent, which means an additional $786 million. And that’s just for TRS to maintain a 30-year funding period. (The state’s contribution to the Employees Retirement System of Texas, or ERS, is 9.5 percent. This pension system provides pensions and healthcare for all other state employees and for retired legislators. That is a 2.7 percent difference between what the state contributes to their own pension fund and what they contribute to the pension fund of all of us who spend our careers working in Texas public schools.) This critical need for $786 million doesn’t include the money needed to end our TRS healthcare nightmare.
Since January, active and retired educators in every region of Texas have been living a healthcare nightmare, compliments of the 2017 Legislative Session. And yet, for seven months, Gov. Greg Abbott has remained silent.
· These are only a small number of the healthcare issues public education employees and retirees have been facing since January. Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
· We shared even more stories. Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
· Retired teacher and administrator Adrienne Gray Myers shared her tragic healthcare story. Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
· Sen. José Menéndez called for a Special Session to address our healthcare. Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
· Rep. Ryan Guillen called for a Special Session. Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
· Rep. Terry Canales called for a Special Session. Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
· I shared the story of 9-year-old Kensley, whose mom is a Texas teacher, and their TRS healthcare battle dealing with Kensley’s diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
· Public education employees and retirees and people who support us have called, tweeted, and sent mail and email to the governor’s office pleading with him to address our nightmare. Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
· Because all else has failed, last week, Rep. Terry Canales asked the governor to declare TRS an emergency item at the start of the 2019 Legislative Session. Yet Gov. Abbott has remained silent.
Not one word to the public education employees across the state who work in our schools educating, feeding, counseling, and providing so much more for Texas students. Not one word to those of us who retired, believing the state’s promise to provide us with a pension and with affordable healthcare. Not one word to the 1.5 million TRS members explaining why the state’s contribution rate and healthcare for retired legislators is so much better than the state’s contribution rate and healthcare for retired educators.
While we suffer physically, financially, and emotionally, Gov. Abbott remains silent.
Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)