Desoto County NewsMississippi News

Retired educators rally to stop House Bill 1590

Photo: Members of the DeSoto County Retired Education Personnel Assoc. welcomed Dr. Randy McCoy, former Tupelo Supt. of Education and current Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) State Board member to be their keynote speaker at the March 21 REPA meeting in Hernando at Catfish Country Restaurant. Picture are (l. to rt.) Rickie A. Vaughn, local REPA Vice Pres. and State REPA Executive Sec./Treas.; former State Rep. Jerry Darnell; keynote speaker Dr. Randy McCoy; and District 2 REPA Rep. and State REPA 2nd Vice Pres. Milton Kuykendall.

by Patsy McCrory

DeSoto County Retired Education Personnel Association President Jan Knight welcomed a large crowd to the monthly meeting at Hernando’s Catfish Country Thursday, March 21.  So many retired and current educators attended that some could not find parking places.  

“I feel as if we have been ‘hornswoggled’ because members of the State House of Representatives passed House Bill 1590 before any news about it was put before the public,” Knight stated. 

“HB 1590 was passed from its House committee to a full vote of the State House of Representatives and then on to the Senate Government Structure Committee all within 24 hours,” she added. HB 1590 would strip the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) of duly elected representatives elected by the membership and would replace them with political appointees of the Governor and Lt. Governor. The Governor would appoint four members, the Lt. Governor would appoint three to go with the State Treasurer and the Commissioner of Revenue. Only two others elected from current and retired members would round out the new PERS Board of 11 total members.

“That would give them nine votes to our two,” explained District 2 REPA Representative Milton Kuykendall, former DeSoto County Supt. of Education. “Now we have the County Supervisors across the state endorsing the bill to cut the two percent increase PERS requested to strengthen the pension fund for the future. They are claiming they would have to cut services or push for increased local taxes to fund the increased payment to their employees.” 

Milton Kuykendall read a message from Sen. David Parker of DeSoto County. He is a member of the Senate Government Structure Committee that is studying HB1590. He said, “Although PERS has issues, eliminating representatives of the members is not the best way to help the situation. I am not in favor of HB1590. I pledge to look out for retirees,” Parker conveyed.

DeSoto County District 1 Senator Mike McClendon also messaged, “My stance is still the same today as it was in October. NO Changes to PERS other than adding money to shore it up from the state’s excess revenue.” 

He stated he was shocked to hear that a fund manager is paid $100 million a year to invest and manage the PERS money. “Now I don’t know about y’all, but I can see why the state’s top officials want to put their cronies on the PERS Board. Follow the money trail, folks!! I’m a hard NO VOTE on changing PERS!” he emphasized.

Keynote speaker Dr. Randy McCoy, former Tupelo Superintendent of Education and one of the three PERS Board members interviewed by the Senate Government Structure Committee on TV Wednesday, warned that it takes four votes to get this bill out of committee. “We need to kill that bill dead,” he stated. “They could send it back to the House with changes, but a conference committee will just add back what the Senate removes. He also stated that the state has a $1.5 billion surplus. He said, “They could pay $148.5 million as a cash infusion to PERS and no 2% employer increase would have to be charged.”

Huey Kuykendall of Hernando forwarded an alert from the MS Retired Public Employees Assn. warning that Senate Bills 2799 and 2685 could add back those negative changes to PERS if HB1590 dies in committee. Any new bills must be voted on by the full Senate and the full House before any of them can pass. All would terminate the current PERS Board and would replace them with political appointees. 

“Rep. Henry ‘Hank’ Zuber, III, is not only the author of HB 1590, but he is the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee where Senate Bill 2799 is sitting right now,” Huey Kuykendall added. 

“Everyone is asked to contact legislators across the state to kill all these bills,” Milton Kuykendall emphasized.

“In Haley Barbour’s term as governor, Katrina hit; and he wanted to “borrow” from our pension fund to bail out the coast after all their damage. We stood firm and said, ‘No!’ If this bill had been in place, crony appointees of the Governor and Lt. Governor would have overridden our votes against it, and they would have drained our pension fund. He said at one time that it was time for Mississippi to get out of the pension business. He was in favor of teachers having their own 401K savings programs instead, but those are risky, and a bad economic year could have wiped out all their savings. A defined pension plan is more dependable. Doling out teacher retirement contributions to 401K plans would just line the pockets of cronies in the financial investment industry,”added Knight after the meeting.

“In the Magnolia Tribune, columnist Rebekah Staples says, ‘HB 1590 is a good step toward a stronger system that honors commitments to retirees without saddling taxpayers with higher taxes.’ Consider the source.  She was Gov. Haley Barbour’s policy director on issues such as budget. Now she is senior advisor to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. Passing this bill would be like giving the fox the keys to the hen house,” Knight concluded.

Longtime DeSoto County educator Sarah Thomas was presented with a plaque of appreciation for her years of service as a teacher, School Board member, MS Assoc. of Educators representative, and REPA Sec./Treas. Pictured are (l. to rt.) current Supt. of Education Cory Uselton, Thomas’s son Steve Doss, Thomas, REPA Pres. Jan Knight, Thomas’s daughter-in-law Kim Doss, Thomas’s son Mike Doss, and former Supt. of Education Milton Kuykendall. (Courtesy photo)

In other business, the local REPA group honored one of their own—Sarah Thomas. Thomas is a former Southaven High School business teacher, a former DeSoto County School Board member, a MS Association of Educators representative, and former REPA Sec./Treas.  Pres. Jan Knight presented her a plaque of appreciation for her many years of service to DeSoto County Schools. Her sons Steve and Mike Doss and daughter-in-law Kim Doss were there to support her.

The next DeSoto County REPA meeting will be Thursday, May 9 at 6 p.m. in the large meeting room at the Southaven Public Library.  All retired and current PERS members are invited to attend.

Note: Patsy McCrory is Secretary/Treasurer of the DeSoto County Retired Education Professionals Association, former reporter, photographer, and news editor, and a retired DeSoto County teacher after 42 years.