Can teacher pension increases keep up with the cost of living?

Graph: NY Times.

As a retiree I have had to listen to anti-taxers complain about our alleged generous pension for years.

Some focus on our yearly COLA increase.

Each February we get a 3% compounded increase over the pension we received the year before.

Prior to 1989 the increase was 3% simple.

Meaning 3% of our starting pension amount.

The legislature changed the benefit to 3% compounded because inflation was way more than that and they felt sorry for us.

In 1990 the official government CPI was double that.

So, the change from simple to compounded wasn’t generous.

It was re-election insurance.

Since then the 3% compounded has kept retirees aligned with increases in the costs of things. None of us have gotten rich.

But things may be about to change.

There is growing concern with inflation.

Writes the NY Times:

Consumer prices jumped at the fastest pace in more than a decade in April, surprising economists and intensifying a debate on Wall Street and in Washington over whether inflation might reach levels that would squeeze households and ultimately undermine the recovery.

Suddenly that 3% compounded doesn’t look so generous anymore.

And I don’t hear anybody suggesting a raise to keep us up with the cost of living.

Remember that when and if the cost of stuff goes down.

Splitting apart at the seams.

Liz Cheney, whose father is an indisputable war criminal, sees the writing on the wall, I think.

Avoiding a recorded vote to oust her from her ranking caucus position, the Republican House members chose to vote by voice.

Maybe we will find out how Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis voted. Maybe we won’t.

Republicans like Davis have always tried to walk the line between being a NRA supporter and receiving teacher union endorsements.

But, there seems to be little future for them in the current GOP short term.

Even for a far-right political figure like Liz.

Good.

On the other hand these developments serve to consolidate the openly fascist Trumpers in the GOP.

That’s good news and bad news, since the Trumpers are not bound by any traditional rules of normal democratic politics.

For the Democrats and Biden, it suggests slim chances if success for Biden’s efforts at bipartisanship to advance the current legislative agenda other than peeling off a few votes.

Maybe.

To succeed, the Democrats must go it alone. And they can.

While those like Cheney reject a Trumpist view of the world, they remain ultra-reactionary when it comes to healthcare and other social programs that Biden and the Democrats are trying to pursue.

Hopefully, this will free up the Democrats from the ball and chain of hopeless bipartisanship.

Those like Cheney obviously believe that, strategically, a split now will strengthen them for the long haul.

There is talk about an actual split in the Republicans with those like Cheney forming a new party.

They might be right if the old party is splitting apart at the seams anyway.

Support Illinois SB 808. Oppose edTPA and teacher prep privatization. Is the IEA really lobbying against this bill?

Senate Bill 808 has passed the Illinois Senate and has gone on to the House where State Representative Will Guzzardi from my 39th district is the chief House sponsor.

It appears that SB 808, which would end the video taping and the violation of student privacy rights has the support of most legislators.

House Ed Committee members are Sue Scherer, Fred Crespo, Thomas Morrison*, Avery Bourne, Eva Dina Delgado, Anne Moeller, Delia Ramirez, Joe Sosnowski*.

*Republicans who have voted against previous bills to stop edTPA practices.

The video taping of student teachers is part of edTPA, a program for evaluating student teacher performance that removes classroom teachers from the teacher preparation process and hands it over to anonymous raters.

SB 808 is a first step to getting rid of edTPA and returning the mentoring of future teachers to professionals.

I have been told that Illinois legislators have been lobbied by the Illinois Education Association to oppose SB 808.

Calls to the IEA government relations office to confirm have not been returned.

The IEA legislative program, adopted by the state Representative Assembly, states, “The responsibility for the evaluation of Illinois candidates for initial teaching licensure should rest with the accredited college or university where the student has received training.” (p. 13)

edTPA places that responsibility with Pearson, a private for-profit company.

Call your state rep to support SB 808.

Activists in Mississippi have been clamoring to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s anti-strike law. Greenville school bus drivers may have kicked the door wide open.

Bus drivers in Greenville Public School District went on strike to protest reduced hours, low pay and ‘poor treatment’ by the district. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Mississippi Today:

A political time bomb is ticking in Greenville, and the explosion could transform the state’s public education environment for decades to come.

Last Monday and Tuesday, between 13-20 bus drivers for the Greenville Public School District — some of the lowest paid employees in one of the most under-resourced school districts in one of the most under-resourced regions of America — skipped work to protest reduced pay and what they called poor work conditions.

As far as anyone knows, this was the first organized work stoppage in Mississippi public schools since 9,429 teachers walked out in a 1985 strike, after which lawmakers passed the demanded pay increases but also enacted one of the nation’s most stringent strike laws.

Lawmakers that year made it explicitly illegal for school employees to strike in Mississippi. They drafted the law as broadly as possible to include pretty much any excuse that teachers — including bus drivers, in this case — could use.

The consequences for the Greenville bus drivers, clearly written out in state law, are grave: They could be fired and would never be able to work in any public school district in the state again. Several of the drivers have indicated to Mississippi Today in recent days they did not know the extent of the state law before they went on strike, and school officials said on Thursday that several of the drivers tried to retroactively claim they were sick for the two days of the strike.

Dorian Turner, the attorney for the Board of Trustees of the Greenville Public School District, said in a Greenville Public School District board meeting on Thursday afternoon that she had been gathering facts about what, exactly, happened last week. And despite the bus drivers’ claims about not knowing state law, she said that what occurred last week was, indeed, a strike.

“It looked to me that what we had was a situation where the bus drivers had gone on strike, and that was activity that was illegal,” Turner told the Greenville school board on Thursday. “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you’ve probably got a duck on your hands. They may or may not have known that doing that was an illegal activity, but that was the effect of all those employees deciding not to come to work.”

The meeting then quickly devolved into confusion, with board members talking over each other and lobbing accusations. Some members questioned whether what the bus drivers did even constituted a strike by legal definition, and the board president blamed the director of transportation for allowing the work stoppage.

The board members appeared oblivious to the state laws at hand, including ones that could affect them personally. The strike law passed in 1985 clearly states that school board members themselves are responsible for reporting the names of those who striked to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office. For each day that those names are not reported by the board to the state, the individual board members and school administrators can be fined between $100 and $250. Turner did not disclose that provision to the board during the Thursday meeting, though Greenville Superintendent Debra Dace at one point said during the meeting that she had a list of the drivers who went on strike.

“Before we send these names to the AG’s office, we want to be sure,” Jan Vaughn, the president of the board, said during the meeting. “There’s a misdemeanor, a large fine, maybe even jail time. So I want to be clear about this before we take any action.”

The board ended the Thursday meeting by taking no action. The next board meeting is scheduled for May 27. If the names were not reported to the state until that day, every school board member in the Greenville Public School District could face fines of $8,000 each, according to the strike law.

Turner told Mississippi Today in an email she was not authorized to speak to reporters without permission from the board or the superintendent. Vaughn, the board president, has not returned multiple requests for comment since last week. A spokesperson for the district and superintendent did not respond to questions from Mississippi Today by Friday morning. 

There is little legal precedent in the state that dictates what may happen next. The Greenville board obviously must make decisions about if, how and when to report the names of the bus drivers to the Attorney General’s Office. If that happens, it’s unclear how Attorney General Lynn Fitch may handle the case.

State Auditor Shad White, who earlier this year issued a demand for a return in taxpayer money to a University of Mississippi professor who participated in a nationwide walk-out, told Mississippi Today he is unsure if his office will investigate.

“The state law is clear: public employees in Mississippi cannot strike,” White said in a statement. “My role, if there was a strike, is to ensure that striking employees were not paid while on strike. My assumption here is that the drivers were not paid while they were not driving, though we haven’t looked into it.”

For years, attorneys and advocates both in Mississippi and outside the state have been clamoring to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s strike law. But without legal standing to make such a challenge, they’ve had nothing to do but wait. The Greenville bus drivers may have, perhaps inadvertently, kicked that door wide open.

Many have argued the merits of the strike law being struck down in Mississippi. The state’s public school teachers are the lowest paid, on average, in the nation. While teacher pay is often the most discussed issue at hand, behind the frustration of many school teachers is a long history of broken political promises and little meaningful action to support the very teachers that politicians often boast as critical to the future of the state.

Certainly not making matters easier is the fact that public education advocacy groups, whose thousands of members often suggest going on strike, have been handcuffed by the strike law themselves and are now left to sit on the sidelines while the Greenville situation unfolds. 

The law passed in 1985 explicitly prohibits “teacher organizations” from doing anything to “promote, encourage or participate in any strike against a public school district, the State of Mississippi or any agency thereof.” During the 1985 strike, board members of the Mississippi Association of Educators, the local affiliate of the National Education Association that is still active in advocacy work today, were fined and received two-day jail sentences for the organization’s role in the strike (although the board members did not actually have to serve the jail time after cooperating with court orders).

What happens in the days to come is unknown. But eager onlookers — both the ones who are speaking up and the ones who legally cannot — realize this moment could prove pivotal to the state’s educational future.

Meanwhile, the Greenville bus drivers, who all along just wanted to be paid fairly and treated better by school district leaders, are caught in a grim reality. Their bosses, the same ones who ignored their pleas for better pay and treatment during the pandemic and pushed them to organize a work stoppage, appear poised to report their names to the state’s top prosecutor.

Fair or not — constitutional or not — the law is working exactly how lawmakers in 1985 intended.

Has the IEA been bought off by Pearson in opposing SB 808 and supporting edTPA?

For years those of us who care about our beloved teaching profession and quality teacher preparation have opposed the student teacher evaluation program called edTPA.

You can go back and search through my posts on edTPA to get the background if you are unfamiliar.

At its core edTPA hands over the student teaching experience to a private company, Pearson, and undermines the role of the actual classroom teacher mentor.

A key part of edTPA requires video taping teachers and students. The video is then sent for evaluation by some anonymous reviewer.

The video taping violates the privacy rights of students and it is an ineffective way to evaluate teaching skills and performance.

In Illinois SB 808 would end the edTPA requirement to videotape student teachers and students.

SB 808 has passed the Senate and now is before the House Education Committee. 

Word has it that IEA’s position is in opposition to the bill and has been calling around to committee members and other House members lobbying against it.    

It is a disgrace that the largest teacher union in Illinois would be in opposition to SB 808.

Every single IEA member I ever brought up edTPA with has expressed unsolicited opposition to it.

Schools have stopped taking student teachers because of the video responsibilities and shaky stewardship of student and student images.

Is the IEA leadership being bought off by Pearson?     

Are IEA leaders aware that the state is experiencing a teacher shortage?

House Committee members are Sue Scherer, Fred Crespo, Thomas Morrison, Avery Bourne, Eva Dina Delgado, Anne Moeller, Delia Ramirez, and Joe Sosnowski.

You know what to do.

Six years ago the Illinois Supreme Court ruled our teacher pensions could not be diminished or impaired. The Republicans weren’t listening and they’re back at it.

WBEZ is reporting:

(House Republican Leader Jim) Durkin, who had only been elected House GOP leader a few months before the pension vote, now wants a do-over. But he blames the majority party for burying their heads in the sand.

“Right now I don’t get a sense of urgency out of the Democrats to say that we’re going to stop this insane, insane appropriation to our pension systems without at least reining in the cost,” Durkin said. 

Durkin says he wants to at least try to pass the other option lawmakers could have gone with in 2013: a negotiated pension reform dubbed the “consideration model” in which organized labor would agree to certain cuts in pension benefits. Then Senate President John Cullerton championed the approach, but ultimately lost out to Madigan’s proposal.

McConchie agrees, noting the extreme political unlikelihood that Illinois’ constitution would be amended to weaken or remove the pension protection clause — an idea floated by groups like the libertarian-leaning Illinois Policy Institute. McConchie says attempting a negotiated settlement would at least help guarantee both the state’s pension systems and smaller municipal pension systems don’t implode for future generations of public employee retirees like teachers.

“We need to have reforms that actually get our pension systems onto the track that they can fulfill the promises that were made to the people who essentially have put all their eggs in that basket,” McConchie said. “These people do not qualify for Social Security…And if counted on this pension, we need to do what we can to guarantee them that their pension will be there long-term.”

Harmon, however, poured cold water on the idea of ever attempting to reduce pension benefits again, saying it’s futile. Harmon believes that not even changing the state’s constitution would erase the state’s legacy pension debt — meaning the pension liability accrued up until the moment the constitution was amended. He also believes the consideration model would be found unconstitutional based on the 2015 decision, which he read to mean the pension protection clause is ironclad.

“Those benefits are protected, not only by the pension clause, but also by the contracts clause of the state constitution and the United States Constitution,” Harmon said. “So there are a lot of people who would like to wish away the Constitution when it’s inconvenient, but the short answer is on the legacy debt, we’re going to have to pay it.”

The Democrat says not enough attention has been paid to a pension change made a decade ago that created a second tier of state employees hired after Jan. 1, 2011, who are entitled to much less rich pension benefits “so low, in fact, that [the federal] Social Security [Administration] may ding us in forces to raise some of those benefits,” Harmon said. Over time, he said, those changes will make a significant difference to the state’s pension debt.

“It’s a problem that took a century to get into this deeply,” Harmon said. “It’s gonna take decades to get out.”

Welch is honest when he says he doesn’t know how to solve Illinois’ pension woes. He said he felt the weight of his vote for the 2013 overhaul as a “labor guy” but knows “something has to be done to address our pension [debt].”

Changing the state’s constitution isn’t palatable to Welch, but he didn’t close the door on trying to negotiate with labor again. Finding a solution, Welch said, would require “everyone around the table.”

In February, Welch floated trying again for a graduated income tax but guaranteeing the revenues would go toward paying down the state’s pension debt. 

“Certainly I think that we need to drive more revenue into our budget,” Welch said. “I’d like to figure out ideas on where the revenue could come from.

A word about the “consideration model” and the unions “having a seat at the table” to bargain it.

Because our current retirement benefit is contractual as well as a constitutionally guaranteed, in order to change the contract, something must be offered of equal or greater benefit.

Want to reduce our yearly 3.5% compounded COLA? The state must give us something as good.

But that brings us to whether the leaders of the teachers’ unions (IFT, IEA, CTU) can bargain consideration on behalf of those of us who are no longer members.

I agree with legal experts who say they cannot.

Prior to the court’s ruling in 2015, the state’s entire public union leadership supported State Senate President John Cullerton in trying to pass a “consideration model” of pension cuts.

Because House Speaker Madigan had his own ideas about pension theft, Cullerton’s plan, supported by the union leaders, bargaining consideration didn’t go anywhere.

It isn’t going anywhere now, either.

The current Senate President Don Harmon is mostly right about this.

“Those benefits are protected, not only by the pension clause, but also by the contracts clause of the state constitution and the United States Constitution,” Harmon said. “So there are a lot of people who would like to wish away the Constitution when it’s inconvenient, but the short answer is on the legacy debt, we’re going to have to pay it.”

What Harmon is referring to, what he calls “the legacy debt” is the $140 billion plus pension liability that exists because even now the legislature fails to pay their share of the actuarial costs of our pensions.

I have no sense that they feel they “have to pay it.”

They can continue to pay the yearly normal cost, what each current retiree receives, and wait for us to die out.

Problem solved.

But Tier 2 is not so easily fixed.

When the first of the Tier 2 teachers retire and their pension isn’t there, the stuff will definitely hit the fan.

May 8th is constitution Day. Glen Brown wrote this in 2015 when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that our public pensions could not be diminished or impaired. Public pensions are a moral and legal obligation of the state.

Retired teachers and pension activists celebrating our win, May, 2015. Bob Zahniser, John Dillon, Bob Lyons, me and Glen Brown


It was always a legal and moral issue. 


“[O]f fundamental importance [is] the primacy of the Illinois Constitution over considerations of political expediency” (Brief of ISEA, RSEA, Heaton and Harrison, Plaintiffs-Appellees, 2).

Today we celebrate a legal and moral victory. We can believe in the Illinois Constitution for protection and believe in the sanctity of contracts once again. We can believe the Pension Protection Clause “confers additional, independent protection for public retirement benefits separate and distinct from the protection afforded by the Contract Clause” (Brief of ISEA, RSEA, Heaton and Harrison, Plaintiffs-Appellees, 22). We can believe the Pension Protection Clause decisively has no reference to “subject to police power.” We can believe Illinois legislators “may not rewrite the Pension Protection Clause to include restrictions and limitations that the drafters did not express and the citizens of Illinois did not approve” (32). We can believe “no reserved power allows a state legislature to sidestep the plain prohibitions set out in its own constitution” (41) at least for now.


As readers of my blog know, I have stated many times to possess a right to a promised deferred compensation, such as a pension, is to assert a legitimate claim with all Illinois legislators to protect that right. There are no rights without obligations. They are mutually dependent.
Fulfilling a contract is a legal and moral obligation justified by trust among elected officials and their constituents. Senate Bill 1 was, indeed, a foul insensitive attack on public employees’ and retirees’ rights to constitutionally-guaranteed benefits. 


I wrote four years ago that challenges lie ahead for current public employees, retirees and their families, and for every citizen of Illinois. These facts have not changed: there are liars and thieves among us who will continue to choose which contracts to honor and which ones to violate in the future. 


We know it’s always possible they will attempt another legislative thievery of our benefits and rights again. Thus, we must continue our vigilance. Most importantly, we must continue our resistance against the dishonest politicians and their mendacious accomplices, such as members of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Civic Federation, Illinois Policy Institute, and their ilk. 


We know corrupt legislators will pass laws for their own advantage. We should recall that despite their pledges, the legislators’ criteria for justice are their considerations for what is expedient for them—their re-elections to remain in power and wealth.

We must never become complacent in our belief that justice exists for those who simply “fight the good fight”; nor should we become indifferent to political power and what exorbitant wealth can buy: a “democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder” (Bill Moyers).  


It will still be up to us to protect what we have earned for our life’s labor by opposing the next attacks from the Illinois General Assembly, the Civic Committee, the Civic Federation, Illinois Policy Institute, and the Chicago Tribune, et al.  We must continue to defend our dignity with stubborn resolve.  


We are intrinsically bound to one another in this regard.  As Martin Luther King eloquently stated, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” We must urge our unions’ leadership to be absolutely prepared to defend our pension benefits and rights without apologies, without concessions, and without compromise.  


“…The concerns of the delegates who drafted article XIII, section 5, and the citizens who ratified it have proven to be well founded. Even with the protections of that provision, the General Assembly has repeatedly attempted to find ways to circumvent its clear and unambiguous prohibition against the diminishment or impairment of the benefits of membership in public retirement systems. Public Act 98-599 is merely the latest assault in this ongoing political battle against public pension rights. As we noted earlier, through that legislation the General Assembly is attempting to do once again exactly what the people of Illinois, through article XIII, section 5, said it has no authority to do and must not do…” (The Illinois Supreme Court, May 8, 2015).

With Sincere Gratitude:
Thank you Gino L. DiVito, John M. Fitzgerald, Brian C. Haussmann, and Uri B. Abt from Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC; thank you John E. Stevens, John T. Shapiro, Michael D. Freeborn, and Dylan Smith from Freeborn & Peters LLP; thank you Michael T. Reagan from the Law Offices of Michael T. Reagan; thank you Donald M. Craven from Donald M. Craven, P.C.; and thank you Aaron B. Maduff, Walker R. Lawrence, and John D. Carr from Maduff Maduff LLC – Attorneys for Plaintiffs-Appellees! 


Thank you Honorable John W. Belz! 


Thank you Illinois Supreme Court Justices who voted (7 -0) to uphold the Illinois Constitution! We are grateful for those Illinois Supreme Court justices who proved Michael Madigan’s arrogant prediction was wrong!
Thank you Illinois Retired Teachers Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Retired State Employees Association, Illinois State Employees Association Retirees, State Universities Annuitants Association, Illinois Education Association, and all of their membership who paid their dues!


Thank you Eric M. Madiar, former Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton and Parliamentarian of the Illinois Senate!


Thank you Fred Klonsky, John Dillon, Ken Previti, Bob Lyons, Bob Zahniser, et al.!


Most importantly, thank you prescient Delegates Helen Kinney and Henry Green for jointly sponsoring the Pension Protection Clause proposal as an amendment to the proposed Legislative Article at the 1970 Illinois Constitution! Thank you Delegates Anthony M. Peccarelli, Donald D. Zeglis, et al., and the citizens of Illinois who ratified Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution 45 years ago!


Sincerely,
-Glen Brown

Ohio lawsuit demanding public pension transparency.

Jim Provance, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio Mon, May 3, 2021/

May 3—COLUMBUS — About 1,000 current and retired Ohio educators skeptical of the true financial shape of their $90 billion state pension fund are preparing to sue to force greater cooperation with a $75,000 self-funded investigation of its books.

The forensics audit, financed through money raised from members, is being undertaken by pension investment expert Ted Siedle — a former Securities Exchange Commission attorney, financial forensics investigator, and co-author of the book “Who Stole My Pension?”

The public records lawsuit will ask the Ohio Supreme Court to force the State Teachers Retirement System, serving some 500,000 active, inactive, and retired members, to release information that investment firms have claimed is proprietary or a trade secret.

“The fundamental definition characterizing a public pension fund is transparency…,” Mr. Siedle said. “Any investment not willing to comply with full transparency is by definition inappropriate.”

The audit is at least partly driven by the STRS decision to reduce and then eliminate retirees’ annual cost-of-living adjustments, or COLA, beginning in 2013 as part of a broader plan to bolster its solvency under state law. The audit — separate from audits conducted by firms hired by the pension fund and the legislative Ohio Retirement Study Council — is described as a “deep dive” into STRS financials and management practices.

“We receive regular updates from fund managers as prescribed in the agreements with the managers…but the contracts limit what is public record,” STRS spokesman Nick Treneff said. “We received the public records request in late February.”

He said the system has turned over thousands of pages and believes it is in full compliance with the law. There have also been some talks to try to narrow what STRS considers requests that are overly broad, he said.

STRS has a negative cash flow of roughly $4 billion a year between what it receives in employer and employee contributions and what it pays out in benefits. Both employers and employees contribute 14 percent of salaries.

The fund counts on investment earnings to make up the difference. While investment returns are running well above estimates right now, Mr. Treneff said the system has been advised by experts to lower its average annual return assumptions for the next decade below the current 7.45 percent.

Mr. Siedle said the audit will address the question of whether the COLA changes were necessary and whether they should be restored as part of a much broader look at STRS.

What was the investments’ true performance? Were there conflicts of interest in investment decisions? Were excessive fees paid and were the risks spelled out? Was there collusion between fund managers and the system to shield such information from the public?

Mr. Siedle said STRS has been minimally cooperative in providing requested information, particularly documentation from investment firms that the lawsuit will claim are public record.

“We have the most transparent public pensions in the world, but across the United States over the last 15 years, Wall Street, working together with these funds, ushered in a new era of secrecy that has eviscerated all of the states’ public records laws,” he said.

Cleveland attorney Marc Dann will file the lawsuit on behalf of the retirees in coming weeks.

“The retirees are not picking on the staff there,” he said. “The system needs to be more transparent. Whether we’re talking about retired teachers or not, the private equity firms have been opaque, and that’s a real policy question…

“There are 1.5 million public employee retirees who rely on pension funds to eat out of a state population of 11.5 million,” Mr. Dann said. “That’s a potential political force if they mobilize around this issue.”

STRS is one of five pension funds serving public employees in Ohio, the others covering highway patrol, police and fire, other school employees, and public workers.

Among the largest public pension funds globally, it is governed by a board that includes representatives of active and retired members, the state superintendent of education, and investment experts appointed by the governor, General Assembly, and state treasurer.

Teacher suspicions were heightened by the fund’s delayed revelation that it likely lost every penny of a $525 million investment in the Panda Power Funds, a private equity firm, between 2011 and 2013.

Word of the loss — combined with suspension of the cost-of-living adjustments, increased employee contributions, and bonuses paid to in-house investment staff — only fueled retirees’ ire.

“You can’t trust their numbers,” said Dean Dennis, a former Cincinnati Public Schools teacher and administrator with the Ohio Retired Teachers Association. “Teachers can’t trust their numbers. They state one thing, and then when it needs to be different, they state the opposite.”

Mr. Dennis, who retired after 35 years with city schools, is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court to try to force STRS to restore the 2 percent annual COLA that was wholly eliminated in 2017 and make retirees whole retroactively for lost benefits.

The lawsuit challenges the assumptions made by the pension fund’s board that the COLA elimination was necessary for the fund to maintain its fiscal integrity. Filed two years ago, the lawsuit claimed that some 145,000 retirees had lost their COLAs as of that time.

Mr. Siedle said his findings, likely to be released via several reports beginning this fall, will also address the perennial question of whether public pension funds should be investing in equity firms, hedge funds, and other alternative investments in the first place.

Even with the Panda loss, Mr. Treneff said the fund’s alternative investment class had a 10-year average return of just over 11 percent as of the end of 2020.

“Service to our members is what we do,” Mr. Treneff said. “We understand they have made sacrifices. Active teachers are working longer before they can retire. There’s the final year salary calculation. The COLA was suspended. We understand their frustration.

“But what we want is to ensure a stable, reliable system for all our members and retirees,” he said. “We have a duty to all our system members to improve strength and sustainability of the fund.”

First Published May 2, 2021, 12:00pm

The privatizing of Medicare means nearly 1 in 5 of those with traditional Medicare have no source of supplemental coverage.

The other day I received a doctors bill for a minor procedure for 90 bucks.

As I aways do, I called United Healthcare, which is the private insurance that handles my state retired teacher Medicare Advantage program.

“That goes to your deductible,” the pleasant voice on the other end of the line told me.

“And that applies to my $1,100 cap?,” I asked.

“No. After your deductible is paid you are required to begin paying a co-pay,” the pleasant voice said.

“But the cap?” I said again.

“Yes. With the Medicare Advantage program through the state retired insurance program your out of pocket costs are capped at $1,000.”

“Is the deductible included in the cap?”

“Yes.”

“And the co-pay?”

“Yes.”

I’m confused.

Could I be the only one confused?

But for those without supplemental coverage there is more than mere confusion in what is becoming a highly privatized market-based profit driven system.


In 2018 study by the Kaiser Permanent Foundation, 5.6 million Medicare beneficiaries in traditional Medicare– 1 in 10 beneficiaries overall (10%) or nearly 1 in 5 of those with traditional Medicare (17%) had no source of supplemental coverage.

Beneficiaries in traditional Medicare with no supplemental coverage are fully exposed to Medicare’s cost-sharing requirements.

Medicare has no cost caps. It pays for 80% of whatever treatment is included in its coverage. That’s not what the doctor actually charges, but the cost that they determine.

Medicare offers no protection from of an annual limit on out-of-pocket spending because traditional Medicare does not have an out-of-pocket limit on cost sharing for services covered under Parts A and B.

In contrast, since 2011, federal regulation has required Medicare Advantage plans to provide an out-of-pocket limit for services covered under Parts A and B.

But Medicare Advantage plans, which dominate the supplemental coverage industry are all private insurance programs.

There are over 50 Medicare Advantage plans and retirees are forced to shop and compare cost and coverage, a virtually impossible task.

Compared to all traditional Medicare beneficiaries in 2018, a larger share of beneficiaries with no supplemental coverage had annual incomes between $20,000 and $40,000, were under the age of 65 (and eligible for Medicare due to having a long-term disability), and were men.