The history of the two retirement systems and the question, ‘What about auxiliary employees?”

This week, let’s start with a bit of history about the two retirement systems controlled by the Texas Legislature:

1. TRS: Teacher Retirement System of Texas

All employees of public, state-supported educational institutions are required to be members if they work 20 or more hours per week and at least 4.5 months per year. If you work for the public education system in Texas, you are automatically enrolled your first day of employment. It is a defined benefits plan, which means the plan provides a guaranteed, fixed, pre-established benefit for employees at retirement. TRS thus promises retirees a monthly salary, based on the number of years of service and the average of each retiree’s five highest years of salary, for the remainder of his/her life. TRS also promises to provide healthcare for retirees as part of its members’ retirement benefits.

In 1936, Texas voters approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution to establish a statewide teacher retirement system. In 1937, the Texas Legislature established TRS.

2. ERS: Employees Retirement System of Texas

Ten years after the Texas Legislature established TRS for public education employees, legislators established ERS. Once again, voters approved a constitutional amendment, this time to provide a retirement program, as well as disability and death benefits, for public employees (other than those working in the public education system) and officers. ERS is also a defined benefit plan. In 1954, the Legislature transferred administration of the Judicial Retirement System of Texas to ERS. Then, in 1963, elected state officials were added to ERS. ERS is mandatory for state employees, but unlike TRS that starts on day one of employment, ERS kicks in on the ninety-first day of employment. ERS is optional for the “Elected Class,” which includes our legislators, though it would be hard to pass up a $0 monthly premium and a $0 deductible, which is what ERS retirees enjoy.

For a moment, let’s return to the ‘Are-teachers-state-employees-or-not-? debate.’ If we aren’t, why was TRS created by a constitutional amendment? Why did the legislature establish it? The same process was used to create TRS and ERS, but they are state employees and we’re not? And why does the Texas legislature continue to adequately fund ERS while severely underfunding TRS, thus making our benefits so far inferior to theirs?

Throughout this series, the focus has been on teachers. (I still find it strange that the system is called “Teacher” Retirement System of Texas when, in actuality, it encompasses all public education employees.) Among them is what are referred to as “auxiliary” employees. These are public education employees other than teachers, nurses, librarians, counselors, and administrators. They include our custodians, secretarial staff, food service workers, bus drivers, police officers/staff, and our grounds and maintenance/service crew.

The salary schedule for auxiliary staff is based on pay grades. McAllen ISD, for example, has 10 pay grades. Today, let’s address those on Pay Grade 1. Members of this grade are consistent with other neighboring districts and include custodians, itinerant custodians, and food service workers, other than those in a supervisory capacity. In McAllen ISD, the 2017 pay for Pay Grade 1 employees ranged from $9.55 to $13.46 per hour. In Sharyland ISD, it ranged from $10.00 to $13.23 per hour, and in Edinburg ISD, it ranged from $9.39 to $13.64 per hour.

I have shared with you my and my fellow retired teachers’ concerns about our healthcare costs beginning January 1, 2018, as a result of this year’s legislative session. As you know by now, our deductible will rise from $400 to $3000, and there will be no co-pay until we have met our deductible. In addition, over the next four years, my monthly premium will increase from $295 to $370. Meanwhile, as I shared above and in previous columns in this series, those in ERS will continue to enjoy a $0 deductible and a $0 monthly premium. I ask again, why are our healthcare benefits so far inferior when we are, obviously, state employees, too?

If I and my fellow retired teachers are concerned about our ability to afford these extreme healthcare cost increases, I can only imagine what will happen to my colleagues who were auxiliary employees in our schools.

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 cardis1022@aol.com.