Inside Education: Teacher pensions

The budget crisis in Hartford has produced many proposals, including the idea that towns contribute toward teacher pensions. Ridgefield residents should be especially concerned about the plan to require towns and cities to pay into the pension system that our state legislators have been underfunding for years.

The teacher pension statute does not allow towns to opt out, and it mandates a single state system. The decision to underfund these pensions was made by the General Assembly, not the municipalities. Some will argue that towns like Ridgefield can afford to take on this scheme because we pay our teachers more than many other towns in Connecticut, but that number is being deceptively represented when discussed only as averages.

By using averages, legislators ignore that pension costs are more significantly related to length of service than salary scales. Our teacher salary scales are consistent with our DRG and we have experienced teachers. We understand that Connecticut towns that experience significant turnover and have fewer experienced teachers commit the state to lower pension costs. Unfortunately, we know that high turnover and inexperience are significant obstacles to improving school systems. Why would we want that to be an incentive?

We would argue that moving teacher pension costs to towns and cities is not an adequate or responsible approach to the underfunding of state pensions, as it does not address the fundamental issue of rising pension costs. Towns must not assume these costs with no power to control the level of funding. The first selectman and Board of Education continue to advocate at the state level against the proposal.

This column was submitted to The Press by the nine members of the Ridgefield Board of Education.