By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Teachers are tasked with shaping the minds of children and teens for several years before retiring. Many of the county’s leaders can often point to one or more educators that made a positive impact in their career and/or personal life. For that, they are often venerated across America.
To address issues regarding the needs or retired educators and how to continue to help the Texas educational system, State Sen. Royce West of District 23 held No Eggs… Just Issues!: Legislative Wrap-Up for Retired Teachers, a live presentation on Zoom, Oct. 13.
The presentation answered questions about the Teacher Retirement System, TRS Cares, the 13th Check, and other legislation that will impact citizens during the 87th legislative sessions.
Speakers and special guests included Verna Mitchell, president of the Dallas Retired Teachers Association; Addison Reagan, assistant director of Government Relations for Texas; and Brock Gregg, governmental relations associate director at Texas Retired Teachers Association.
“This presentation was specifically designed and presented to address the questions and concerns of one of our most valuable assets, retired teachers,” West said. “Much of my public service that I do and made me who I am today, I owe it to the teachers that poured into me more years and continue to contact me by any means necessary to this very day. I’ve tried to make sure you know exactly what Gloria White; she was my seventh-grade teacher at Pearl C. Anderson Junior High School. She taught me government in the seventh and eighth grade, and she made a profound effect on me as a student at Pearl C. Anderson Junior High School to graduate Wilmer Hutchins, which allowed me to graduate college and become a teacher. Now, I’m a lawyer and also a state senator.”
Mitchell, a retired public-school employee since 2002 for DISD, said that the impact of teachers does not end when their profession ends.
“I hope this presentation will help show more positive and more informative information as it relates to retirees, and how they are to manage their lives moving forward as retirees,” she said. “I like to refer to us as sometimes sleeping giants because sometimes we know that in Texas we have more than 400,000 public school retirees and if we were at any given time, everybody decided to wake up – I shared with them all the time – we could move to Texas. And so that’s where my thoughts are at this point, to make sure that all public-school retirees receive the best possible support that they had ever received from TRS and received from the state.”
West expressed that the government needed to change the way it treated retired teachers.
“I understand that Social Security benefits and the cost-of-living increase by 5.9%,” West said. “We know what that issue is also as relates to our teachers and we need to do something about that at the national level. We have presentations by the Teachers Retirement System, and we’ll go through some of the constitutional amendments that are on the ballot in November.
Reagan conducted the TRS presentation. It revealed that some of the bills being voted on in November, include SB 7, which authorizes a supplemental payment to retired educators equal to the lesser of a retiree’s current monthly annuity or $2,400.
“SB 7 and HB 5 authorized and paid for the check, were made possible first because of the contribution rate increases and investment returns and then there was the legislature’s willingness to pay for the 13th check up front, rather than financing it through the pension trust fund, by paying for the check up front, like they did for the check in 2019, the legislature shows that it will protect the health of the funds for generations to come. Eligible retirees will receive this supplemental payment in January of 2022,” Reagan said.
She then discussed the regular legislative session and some of the significant changes that were passed into law.
“As you may know, TRS was under a Sunset Review,” Reagan said. This slide highlights the major provisions in HB 1585 the TRS Sunset Bill that became law. The first box highlights a new warning system for our retirees returning to work, or as we call it, employment after retirement, or EAR. The warning system, instead of in three states, the first time a retiree violates the EAR law, by working over the number of allowable hours or days in the calendar month. We’ll send a written warning to the retiree. If the retiree violates again, a second strike is issued, which will require the retiree to pay a lesser of either what they earned. They violated their full annuity. If the retiree violates a third time, and every time they’re after the retiree must have your back. They’re holding the money for the money they violated the middle box address is a one-time date change. It allows those who retired on or before Jan. 1, 2021 to return to work full time, without a 12 month, consecutive break in service. Those who retire after Jan. 1, 2021 will still be required to put out a 12 consecutive month break from public education.
“Lastly, the Sunset bill created an ombuds position that for the purpose of assisting active and retired members regularly report to the Board of Trustees and can recommend changes to operations that would benefit members.”
Reagan discussed the TRS Health Care Law, also known as HB 2022, TRS-Care Medicare (87R).
“HB 2022 provides a one-time enrollment, re-enrollment opportunity for TRS-Care retirees who are eligible for Medicare and who voluntarily terminated their enrollment between Jan. 1 2017 and Dec. 1, 2019. Returning retirees can also add their eligible dependents at the time they re-enroll.”
Last to give his presentation was Gregg, who served as the lead lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators for over 20 years before joining TRTA in 2016.
“I first met Sen. West in 1995,” he recalled. “Actually, I’ve met him before that, but it was the first time we got to work together. And that session, we actually rewrote the entire education code. That was my first session of the legislature, and I was a young buck then and I learned at that point that if you wanted to get something done, and it had something to do with helping schoolteachers or students, you went to Sen. West, and I’ve been doing it ever since. And he’s probably done more to help public school teachers in this state than just about anybody that I know in the legislature. And I think it wanted to say that about Sen. West in front of our people because it’s true.”
Gregg continued, as he addressed the roles retires continue to play in the education system.
“This is probably the most positive session I’ve ever worked in, in 15 or 14 sessions,” he said. For this reason, right here, you’ll see these are the TRTA marching orders, we got our legislative priorities together early. And we really wanted to support public schools during COVID, we wanted to support our retirees who work in public schools, and we heard from a lot of the people who were subbing at the beginning of 2020 school year that they really didn’t want to be in the classroom anymore. So we came up with this crazy idea, and creating a virtual tutor program. If you have a chance to go look at that, it is out there, it’s the website. Just go to the Texas retired teachers Foundation website and you’ll find it.
“Basically, if you’re a retired teacher, and you’re certified and you’re not on the do not hire list, you can sign up with us, and what we’re doing is trying to get school districts to come on board with us. And, you know, use our retirees for their tutoring needs. And we’re kind of in the beginning stages of that, and we feel very confident we have about 250 tutors right now. So we hope to grow that to over 500 By the end of the school year.”
He also revealed that all TRTA state legislative priorities were achieved except for COLA, also known as a cost-of-living adjustment since the cost-of-living continues to rise in Texas.
The state legislative priorities included to get the state funding to increase payroll contributions per SB 12, help public schools respond to the pandemic, promote TRS transparency and increase member trust through the Sunset Process, reform Employment After Retirement, and get the golden ticket for TRS-Care Medicare Retirees.
Gregg said getting COLA for all retirees is the number goal for 2023.