Volume 47, Number 1
By Dana Dillon
As a public school teacher, I am often gratified by the show of support that parents and others throughout California show for educators.
But I’m offended when I hear grumblings over teacher salaries and pensions. News reports of rich public pensions lead many to reason that CalSTRS and its members are also to blame.
I take those criticisms personally. Given my education, training, and service, I’ve earned the pension I’ve spent a career in building.
Most CalSTRS members do not retire into a life of luxury. Ours is a modest pension, secured over nearly three decades of service. The median CalSTRS pension replaces about 60 percent of our working income. Unlike most workers, teachers in California do not earn any Social Security benefits for their classroom service. As such, the CalSTRS pension represents the only source of reliable monthly income a retired teacher receives.
Nor is it a taxpayer giveaway. Over the life of their careers, CalSTRS members contribute 8 percent of their monthly pay to help finance their retirement. Employers kick in another 8.25 percent of monthly pay (75 percent of which is offset by not having to pay Social Security taxes), the state contributes a little more than 2 percent, and the returns garnered by CalSTRS investments do the rest. Local and state governments, including California, must make hard decisions to ensure the solvency of their public pension systems. CalSTRS acknowledges that changes must be made to its system and is working with affected stakeholders to develop a responsible strategy to address the system’s projected long-term funding shortfall. While a fix is not immediately needed, the longer we wait to address funding issues, the costlier a solution will be.
We can manage our funding problems without eliminating the Defined Benefit pensions that California’s public educators deserve.
Dana Dillon serves on the Teachers Retirement Board of CalSTRS and is a member of the CTA board of directors.