The protests of Johnson County school workers have been heard across Kansas throughout the past month. On Feb. 8, over 6,400 employees signed and delivered a petition to the Kansas Statehouse against suggested changes to the state pension system. The petition caused the Committee of Education to reevaluate their suggestions and look for a compromise.
East Spanish teacher Linda Seick, a member of the National Education Association Shawnee Mission Executive Board, collaborated with teachers and employees from Olathe, Gardner-Edgerton, Desoto and other Kansas City, Kan. school districts in petitioning. Her role was to bring the petition to East, and she reported that almost 2,500 signatures were submitted by SMSD alone.
Seick said that the main concern of the petitioners was the suggested switch to a 401(k) format, which would force employees to control investments that had formerly been handled by state analysts. This new independence was the root of petitioners’ worries, Seick said, mainly because a majority of district employees do not understand the complexities of the stock market.
“For some people, this would mean that they couldn’t retire,” Seick said. “If you cannot project that you will be receiving enough money to pay for healthcare, to take care of yourself, the bottom line is that you just can’t afford to retire, even if you need to.”
East Principal Dr. Karl Krawitz agreed that the switch to a 401(k) format would be “catastrophic”, but when the protests initially started, he feared that the petitioning would do no good. However, several weeks after Governor Brownback submitted the 401(k) suggestion, the state calculated that the new plan would cost $10.3 billion more than is currently being spent. Senator John Vratil, the Vice Chair of the Committee on Education, says that it was then that the Committee created a third option for change.
This third suggestion is called a cash-balance plan. It requires both the employer and the employee to contribute money, which is then invested by state economy specialists. Once the employee reaches retirement, that cash is turned into an annuity, which guarantees the retiree a monthly pension check. The state would also guarantee that the contributed money would increase in value 5% each year. The plan is beginning to garner support from employees and state representatives, and petitioners who formerly opposed the changes are supporting the new plan.
“The employees definitely like [the cash-balance plan] better,” Vratil said. “Mainly because the risk is shared between the employers and the employees. The state likes it because there’s a maximum limit of ten percent on their risk, and the cost per year is a whole lot less.”
Due to the support seen from the state and from employees, Vratil believes that the cash-balance plan will be implemented. He says that the Committee plans on recommending the plan as an actual bill during the second week of March, beginning the long process of becoming a piece of legislature.
Teachers and other school faculty who are currently employed would not see a change in their pension plan. The plan will be put into effect for all teachers employed after the cut-off date of July 1, 2014.