As I write this, those of us who are TRS (Teacher Retirement System of Texas) retirees are still waiting for Governor Greg Abbott’s signature on the bill that will save our retirement system from collapse while at the same time dramatically increasing our out-of-pocket healthcare expenses.
Last week, I went to visit a close friend who is a banker. While there, I stopped in to say hello to one of her co-workers whom I have known for years. He asked me how long I had been retired, and I told him. Four years. We then got into a rather lengthy conversation about pension versus personal retirement. Although he aptly described his concern over having enough in his “personal nest egg” to retire one day without running out of money, he also made it clear that he thinks those who worked in public education deserve a pension as it’s some compensation for the salaries we earn while working in our schools.
I agree. I also look at it this way. When I went into teaching, the State of Texas promised me that I would have a pension when I retired. I knew money would automatically be withdrawn from every paycheck I earned and that the school district would also contribute to this pension. I learned through research last week that this promise of a pension became a reality in 1936 when Texas voters approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution to establish a statewide teacher retirement system.
As I mentioned in last week’s column, one of my primary concerns when I found myself considering retirement was whether I could afford my health insurance. I met with a representative from TRS in Austin in the summer of 2012, the year before I planned to retire. She explained how much I could expect each month, based on my years in TRS, and told me I would be paying $295 per month for my health insurance. I knew I would have to adjust aspects of my lifestyle once I retired because I would only earn about 67 percent of my pay, but I knew I could budget in this $295 plus a $400 deductible. I chose to retire and did so in May of 2013.
New legislation sitting on the governor’s desk, awaiting his signature, will completely alter that budget, and I can’t deny my concerns over what lies ahead for me and for my fellow TRS retirees. As I have shared with you over the past month, our deductible is increasing from $400 to $3000. Our monthly premium is expected to decrease to $200 per month in 2018, go to $250 per month in 2019, increase to $310 in 2020, and then to $370 per month in 2021.
I have received a great deal of feedback from fellow retirees, current educators, and people in the community who had no idea this was happening during the 85th Legislative Session. With this in mind, I decided to write an extensive Summer Series on the topic, focused not only on this new legislation but on the differences between ERS (Employee Retirement System of Texas), which is the retirement system for all other state employees (who are not public school employees) and our legislators. I plan to research, to interview individuals from both ERS and TRS, as well as legislators, and to share whatever I learn with all of you.
While I know many people in our country do not work for a system that will one day provide them with a pension, I also know it is a promise the state has made to all of us who chose to work in our public schools.
If you have any questions you would like me to ask those I interview, please send them to me. I hope this series will inspire more teachers, and those who love us, to get engaged!
Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.