Teachers rely on their state pensions for retirement security

August 12, 2012

Your recent editorial concerning public employee pensions and the transition to defined contribution plans ignores some significant principles ("Prudence and public pensions," July 20).

Your opinion described "risk" as a "financial albatross." Yet nowhere in the editorial was "trust" mentioned. As retired public school educators representing other retired Maryland educators, we find this to be a serious oversight.

A defined benefit retirement plan, when well designed, managed and administered, strives to lower the "risk" by smoothing out the financial markets' gyrations over an extended period of time. This enables employees to avoid becoming victims of the time if they happen to retire when the markets are down.

Anyone with a 401(k) or a defined contribution plan understands what this means, especially if this is their primary form of retirement security. At the same time employees place "trust" in the employer to meet that commitment by adequately funding the system in an actuarially responsible manner.

Maryland has failed at this going back to 2000. At that time, the Maryland Retirement and Pension System was more than 100 percent funded. But when the legislature and governor turned to the "corridor funding method" and failed to make the full actuarially required contributions, a train wreck was set in motion.

By participating in a defined benefit plan, Maryland educators' long term security and dignity in retirement is provided for. Retirement benefits for Maryland educators and public employees are meager by any standard. Calling for the switch to a defined contribution plan further weakens this system. Adjustments made in a studied, actuarially responsible manner can address any current deficiencies if they are combined with the appropriate required contribution.

Maryland educators are "trusted" to provide Maryland students with the highest quality education. They are required to be certified, recertified and enhance their skills over their career to take in new strategies and teaching methods. Educators are expected to take all students that come through the door and enable them to become productive citizens.

The "trust" Maryland has placed in its educators has made Maryland schools the envy of the nation. These same educators "trust" the state, in turn, to honor its promises and obligations to their retirement security without additional "risk" to Maryland's future.

E. Stuart Tucker and William D. Brown

The writers are, respectively, president and legislative chairman of the Maryland Retired School Personnel Association.

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