Kentucky teachers are not state employees

Published 8:24 am Thursday, February 2, 2017

Dear Editor,

As a retired teacher, I feel compelled to clarify statements made in an article in the Advocate Jan 29th issue from the State Journal by Brad Bowman. To quote, “As an example of possible structural changes for current state employees, Bevin said there is less than 1.5 active teachers for one retiree.  The system has been broken for some time and isn’t sustainable, he said.”  He, like much of the general public, is under the false impression that the retirement funds are the same for government workers and teachers. Most teachers are not state employees; they are employees of the local school system in which they teach.

Teacher Retirement System (TRS) is a different fund from the Kentucky Employee Retirement System for state and local government employees.  Each is governed by a different board of directors.  One major difference in the two systems is that government workers are eligible for Social Security; teachers are not.  They cannot even draw Social Security on their spouse’s earnings because of a federal law. Their teacher pension is the only means of support for most.  Those teachers paid in to the fund when they were active teachers.

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TRS has been given a good report by independent auditors over the last several years. In fact, it is one of the strongest in the nation. The only negative auditor comments made have been that the legislature has failed to fund the plan to meet its contractual obligations.  Had those annual amounts been timely funded, it would have been in good financial shape and would continue to be self-sustaining.  It is unfortunate that our current legislators and governor have to deal with the crisis that was created by previous officials.  

Both funds need to be evaluated, and possible adjustments made, but it is scary when our own Governor Bevin makes statements about KERS and uses retired teachers (TRS) as an example. If he is that misinformed, I am really worried about all our newly elected senators and representatives as well.  The study group has been given every bit of information that they ask for.  I hope Gov. Bevin will listen to those who are most knowledgeable about the structure and operation of these funds and keep our board non-partisan.  Those decisions will affect the lives of many thousands of teachers and state/local workers.  

Thank you,

Peggy Orberson