Desoto County News

Retired Education Personnel Association to meet in April

By Patsy McCrory, submitted article

The next meeting of the DeSoto County Retired Education Association will be Tuesday, April 18, 2023, from 2:00 to 3:30 P.M. at the Snowden Grove Forever Young Senior Citizens Center at 3335 Pine Tar Alley, Southaven. Retirees will take a tour of the facilities and will be given membership application forms to return at a later date. Yearly dues for membership are only $5. All members must be DeSoto County residents to become members, but anyone who is a Public Employees Retirement System retiree is invited to attend this meeting.  There will be a short business meeting and refreshments after the tour. 

DeSoto County State Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) retirees gathered at the February 21, 2023, meeting of the Retired Education Personnel Association at One and Only BBQ in Southaven. They were concerned about House Bill 605 that was about to be passed out of the Appropriations Committee a couple of weeks ago. When state retirees learned that the bill had been altered to give the State Legislature veto power over financial decisions made by the PERS Board, they began contacting legislators across the state to prevent its passage. This issue will still be before the legislature during the next 2024 session. 

The original bill authored by Rep. Charles Busby was “hijacked” (his words) in committee. The original bill would allow retired teachers to draw their retirement pay along with a beginning teacher’s salary if they continued to teach in the state. This was a proposed measure to counteract the statewide teacher shortage; however, others on the Appropriations Committee added legislative veto power to supposedly protect PERS and to keep it solvent.  The measure was a reaction to increased contributions by state and local governments and school districts that were to take place October 1, 2023.

State Retired Education Personnel Association (REPA) President Tommye Walker of Ripley and State REPA Executive Secretary/Treasurer Rickie A. Vaughn of Southaven attended a state REPA meeting in Jackson in February to address the issue. State PERS Executive Director Ray Higgins was the keynote speaker and assured the REPA Board members that PERS is “stable.”

Walker and Vaughn addressed the issues at the local REPA meeting. Walker received a forwarded message from Rep. Busby to say the bill would not be passed out of committee this year, but compromises would need to be reached by 2024 to keep PERS strong.

Legislator contact information was given to all members at the meeting. Walker warned members to watch the progress on this measure and to man the telephones and send letters to them. “Right now PERS is a little over 60 percent funded. To be considered strong, a retirement system needs to be at least 80 percent funded. Investments have fluctuated up and down since COVID-19. Things are on the rise, and we fully expect it to continue to rise over the current 60 percent,” she stated.

According to Vaughn, auditors have recommended that they raise employer contributions to reach that 80 percent goal. To do that, they asked city and state governments and school district employers to pay 22.4 percent this year per worker rather than last year’s 17.5 percent.

The bill was not passed out of committee to allow both sides to work out compromises, according to a 

text message forwarded to REPA Pres. Walker from Rep. Busby.

“Several news stories across the state have claimed that PERS is almost insolvent. They are just spreading unfounded panic,” warned Walker. 

Friday, April 21 by 5 p.m. is the deadline for PERS retirees to vote for a new PERS Board member. Ballots for the run-off election between George Dale of Clinton  and Bonnie J. Granger of Ocean Springs should have already been received in the mail. Their qualifications are listed on the ballot. “Board members serve six-year terms,” explained Walker. “Two are appointed by the governor, two are retirees, two are retired state employees, one is a public school representative, one is a college/university representative, and one is from the Mississippi Highway Patrol. The State Treasurer also serves on the Board.”

“REPA Board member and Legislative Chairman Dr. Phil Sutpin monitors all bills related to education and our retirees during every legislative session. He sends word to our REPA locals when action is needed by the REPA membership. There is power in numbers,” Vaughn remarked.

“Local retiree Teresa Gabbert asked about how the Mississippi Highway Patrol retirees differ from teachers in their retirements. Vaughn explained, “All of us operate under the same system; but because the Highway Patrol face more danger on their jobs, they have a separate additional fund that gives them an additional .5 percent more funding than teachers per year of service. State legislators are also covered by PERS, but they also have another additional fund that adds more to their retirements.

In 1989 state legislators voted themselves a new additional retirement fund commonly referred to as “SLURP” (the Mississippi Supplemental Legislative Retirement Plan—SLRP). All elected legislators may pay into the fund with the state adding matching funds. According to noted late columnist Bill Minor in 1989 when that bill passed, it cost the taxpayers of Mississippi $1 million a year for legislators to draw that extra money after retirement while telling teachers and state workers for years that there was no money to give them a raise.

Local President Jan Knight had discussed the problems with her area representative Dan Eubanks. “He said we still need more funding to keep PERS strong. It has been suggested by some that ad valorem taxes be raised across the state to pay for this,” she explained. “So basically we will be paying for the additional funding along with everyone else. No one wants to see higher taxes.”

Local Secretary/Treasurer Patsy McCrory warned that some legislators have said the state needs to get out of the retirement business and are pushing for current teachers to start their own 401K accounts. “Well, we all know that if they do that, one bad year in the stock market could leave them with nothing,” Vaughn warned. 

“This is an election year. No legislator wants to make state retirees mad. Each person has contacts. That might affect 50 to 60 votes per person to elect new legislators. None of them want to mess with ‘Mama’s’ retirement,” added former local REPA President Wendell Davis of Olive Branch. “Having no knowledge is terrible. Everyone should be informed.”

Local REPA President Jan Knight stated that current teachers did receive a considerable raise of $5,000 across the board for all certified teachers. There is also talk of a possible new raise this year. A reasonable increase in their individual contributions should be made, too, to help solve the problems.

Former Tate County REPA President, longtime Superintendent of Education, and former Senatobia Mayor Don Clanton praised the benefits of the Mississippi state worker’s cost of living adjustment check (COLA) that is received each December after retirement. “Young teachers need to work to become vested in the system. Our salaries have always been some of the lowest in the nation; but in my opinion, our retirement system is one of the best,” he added.

DeSoto County REPA meets every other month during the school year. The local dues require $5 in dues, and the state dues are $10 per person. The state dues are also used to support teacher classroom grants and future teacher student scholarships. Application forms are posted on the Mississippi REPA website at Call or text 901-361-2102 if anyone has any questions about the local organization. 

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