In an overwhelming turnout for Retired Teachers Lobby Day, hundreds of former Connecticut educators gathered at the Legislative Office Building this morning to meet with their elected officials about issues critical to public education and the teaching profession. Among the biggest of these are funding teacher pensions and avoiding a proposed cost shift.
“We must avoid any shift of the state’s responsibility to fund teacher pensions onto cities and towns,” said CEA-Retired member and legislative co-chair Karen O’Connell—a move she cautions could impact education budgets, and in turn, students and teachers. The Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee is expected to vote on the issue by the end of the week.
O’Connell and legislative co-chair Myles Cohen said that Retired Teachers Lobby Day—a joint effort of CEA-Retired, the Association of Retired Teachers of Connecticut (ARTC), and AFT Connecticut—brings longtime educators and legislators face to face to discuss issues ranging from adequate funding of teachers’ retirement and healthcare benefits to the resources necessary to support public education.
“Nationally,” Cohen explained, “teacher pensions are under attack. There is a concerted effort to privatize teacher pensions, reduce benefits, and remove state requirements to meet their funding obligations. There are those who ask, ‘Why should you have a pension when I do not have a pension?’ Often people don’t realize that teachers don’t receive Social Security benefits.”
“Teachers have been paying their fair share into the retirement system for years, and it’s time for the state to step up,” O’Connell added. “We want our pensions fully funded.”
A bill currently before the legislature—SB 873—reduces state payments to a more manageable level and lowers the investment earning assumption to a more realistic rate, ensuring the long-term viability and solvency of the Teachers’ Retirement Fund.
Communication is key
Aside from protecting teachers’ pensions and healthcare, retired teacher Phyllis Winkler said what brought her to the capital city was the fact that “it’s so important to remember what our colleagues are doing in the classroom and the impact that legislation has on active teachers and on their students, as well as on retired teachers. If we don’t communicate with our legislators, then they will listen to other interests that are not necessarily aligned with public education.”
Winkler met with her husband, Rep. Michael Winkler, who represents the town of Vernon and who received an honor roll designation on CEA’s first-ever legislator report card, in 2018, for advocating on behalf of public school teachers and students.
Not all retired teachers were able to connect with their legislators, in many cases because lawmakers were in committee. One such retired educator—Shelley Lloyd, a former vice president of the Education Association of Canton—pledged, “I will be contacting my state senator and representative to request a time to meet with me in our district. I think they need to hear our voices. My biggest message is that as a 30-year active teacher I contributed my share every single year to both my retirement and the retiree health insurance accounts. I was never given the option to not contribute at all, or to contribute a reduced amount. Like the state, there were times when I had other financial obligations: a parent with dementia, kids in college, costs to purchase our first home. No one gave me the option to take a pass on my share of the contributions, which the state did year after year after year. I am asking that they fulfill their obligation to fund their share of these costs—just as I was expected to.”
CEA’s Chris Donovan noted that when legislators are unavailable to meet in person, it’s critical to reach out to them in writing. “Send them a letter. Show them that you are a constituent—a voter. Legislators will see that and understand, ‘This person lives in my district.’ That’s gold.”
Retired teacher Bill Murray said the value of turning out in force on lobby day as well as making contact with legislators throughout the year is that, “When you talk to legislators, they get to know your issues. Don’t assume the average legislator understands how the teacher retirement system works. Many don’t. Making that face-to-face contact gets your concerns across.”
Murray met with Senator Julie Kushner, who serves on the Appropriations Committee and who took notes on his concerns about the teacher pension cost shift and the state’s failure to sustain a 50% income tax exclusion for retired teachers.
CEA-Retired President Gloria Brown was one of five teachers who met with State Representative Rob Sampson for a discussion that lasted more than 30 minutes. Sampson, who has voted for and against various CEA priorities and received a 51 on the CEA Report Card, told the retired teachers he supports their issues.
Representative Jane Garibay also made time to sit down with several retired teachers from her district.
“I think it’s so important to hear from these experienced educators,” Garibay said. “They are here not only to protect their own interests but to speak out for current and future generations of teachers. I remember the days when, in Windsor, it took seven referendums to pass a budget. I became politically active then, because public education is what makes our country so great.”
Garibay met with Windsor retired teacher Lisa Bress and Bloomfield retired teachers Patricia Pope, Dorothy Johnson, Barbara Roohr-Karas, and Rita Holby.
Wearing a “Keep the Promise” baseball cap, Roohr-Karas said she wanted to ensure that the state honors its obligation to fund teachers’ retirement and health insurance.
“This is all I have,” said Holby.
ARE YOU RETIRING? Stay in the loop on issues that affect your profession and your retirement. Join CEA-Retired and continue your commitment to public education by
- Advocating for teachers and students
- Participating in political activities and lobbying to promote public policy that strengthens our profession and our schools
- Protecting and improving teachers’ retirement and healthcare benefits
- Strengthening Social Security and Medicare
- Monitoring the State Teachers’ Retirement Board