Are Pensions Being Used Like Credit Cards?

By: Lillian Barry & Nathaniel Baines

Teachers reunite and anxiously wait for the news of their pensions. (Photo: Nathaniel Baines)
A meeting over the Kentucky pensions took place in Barren County High School’s Auditorium Sept. 11.

President of the Barren County Association and current teacher at BCHS Kelley Ross opened the meeting with a warm welcome and invited Deputy Executive Secretary Beau Barnes from TRS (Teacher Retirement System) onstage to begin his presentation.

Barnes shared statistics of how TRS was standing with their finances and its growth.

Barnes shared positive things about the TRS such as: average retirement age has increased; did not use additional funding support from personal agents or other investors such as a hedge fund (a limited partnership of investors that uses high risk methods, such as investing with borrowed money, in hopes of realizing large capital gains.); returning to work now is actuarially sound; percent of return on investments this year is 13.1 percent; Cost-Of-Living-Adjustments (COLAs) funded; window of enhanced benefits were not sought.

TRS also saw an 8.1 percent average of gross-rate return over 30 years, and when compared to other states’ pension plans, ranked in the top 8 percent in a one-year outlook and 6.3 percent in a ten-year outlook.

During the 2017 Legislative Session, an additional $973 million had been granted to TRS by Kentucky’s Governor Matt Bevin, a statistic that captured the attention of several in the audience due to the sheer amount of money, but also the fact that Bevin had been so giving in the first place, especially after the blame he had pushed toward teachers already for taking so much.

Barnes answers a retired teacher’s question about the “soundness of the funds.” (Photo: Nathaniel Baines)

After hearing the statistics, several audience members had been wondering – and a couple stood to ask – where the money had disappeared to. The only answer given by Barnes was that some of the money had been taken for a joint action between teacher’s medical care and the retirement plan, meaning some of the revenue was pushed over to the medical care expenses.

After Barnes’ thirty-minute time was up, State Representative Steve Riley began addressing the pension crisis itself. He spoke of what exactly was happening and the dates of when news about the pension crisis came out, articles, or even the proposals on what could be changed to the pension plan. Riley admitted that much information is still yet to be known because the pension crisis currently is just proposals on what will be done and no bill has been introduced to the legislature.

Sept. 5 a meeting was held with the House and Senate discussing proposals and personal financial plans on how to go about the pension issue. Riley stated, “It was very progressive” due to good discussion taking place.

Riley did voice one specific opinion.

Riley admitted, “I feel with certainty we will not have a 65 year old age limit.” One way to reduce the pension deficit is to raise the age limit, which many are unwilling to do. “It’s not practical” [to work until 65 years old if you are affected by the pension crisis], exclaimed Riley.

Riley also has personal ties with the pension crisis. He is a retired teacher from several positions, one being the alternative school’s first principal. Riley stated he understood the work teachers put in due to his background, “Being an alternative school principal was interesting..”, which was brought on by laughter despite the serious topic.

A number of his family are former teachers including his father. A worry Riley has about his father is what will be his source of income if his pension is not handled correctly, a worry shared among educators.
Riley then affirmed that if teachers are encouraged to retire early, it will only lead to several issues in the system, thus making this a very delicate case.

It seemed the majority of the audience, being current and retired teachers, were not very optimistic about the issue or results of the information given.

Smith expresses her concern to Riley and Barnes for her pension money, inquiring if it was “Used like a credit card?” (Photo: Nathaniel Baines)

Teachers still had questions, and several decided to stand and ask about both the financial issues that have suddenly appeared or what may happen next.

Julie Smith, a current teacher at Barren County High School, addressed her former financial issues that teaching has brought upon her and how the money she put into her pension fund seemed to have vanished. She then proceeded with a question that echoed the thoughts of those in the crowd: “Are my pension funds being used like a credit card?” Before she even finished her sentence, fellow teachers and retirees alike cheered and clapped.