November 28, 2007

TRS: Pension improvements need action in Albany

Source: New York Teacher

Q: I began my teaching career in the state of Virginia and taught there four years before having children and staying home for seven years. In 1984, I began a teaching career in New York state. I am now 56 years old but have no hope of retiring until age 62 because my years of teaching in Virginia do not count and because Tier 4 members need 30 years for full retirement. Will New York state ever let us buy back out-of-state experience for our pensions?

A: There is currently no enabling legislation to provide for prior out-of-state public school service. However, NYSUT's legislative program has a bill regarding the issue.

Be advised, though, the current atmosphere of groups urging that public pensions be reformed (with changes to reduce benefits), does not bode well for winning benefit improvements. We suggest you contact your state legislators in the spring — when retirement legislation is generally considered — and urge them to support NYSUT's bill.

Q: I'm in Tier 4. As of last June, I had total service of 17 years and two months. Before teaching at a public school, I taught two years at an accredited, non-public residential treatment facility. What is the status of this issue as far as being able to purchase retirement credit?

A: Unfortunately, the bill seeking retirement credit for non-public school teaching has not been enacted into law. NYSUT is lobbying for its passage.

We suggest you contact your state senator and assembly member on this issue.

Q: As a member of Tier 2, I was most disappointed when former Gov. George Pataki vetoed the bill that would have provided an early retirement incentive plan last year. The concept of a 55/25 incentive plan is clearly a win-win proposition for both employees and districts alike.

I have been informed that the 55/25 plan is still being discussed but no one can provide any further information. Do you have any additional information to share so that individuals can plan accordingly? It's hard to believe a union as large as NYSUT does not have the type of clout required to make something as logical and financially sound as the 55/25 plan become a reality.

A: NYSUT does have clout in improving member benefits, however, with pressing fiscal issues in the state, the scene is very different from previous years regarding benefit improvements.

Despite the bleak financial landscape, NYSUT will be reintroducing the 55/25 bill again this spring so that members would be able to retire without penalty at age 55 with 25 years of service.

You should contact your state legislators at that time and urge them to support the bill in each house of the state legislature.

By the way, as logical as we teachers know the plan is, please realize that it is costed out by the TRS actuary as an expensive bill (i.e., many members would qualify for earlier retirement, thus increasing liabilities for the retirement system).

Unfortunately, state legislators look at the price tag in casting their votes.