As a former teacher with 41 years of experience I am personally interested in any changes to the Florida Retirement System. For 41 years I was thanked for my services and all I have done for the children I was honored to have go through my class. However, the minute I retired and walked through the doors of the Capitol, I felt that I was now the scum of the Earth. Suddenly, I was the reason the state had financial woes. For 41 years I worked at a salary that was far lower than some of my friends in other states, partially because I had a promise of a future retirement in which I would be financially independent.
In addition, receiving a lower salary also meant I was receiving a lower percentage on my Social Security. However, the DROP program was a win/win/win situation in which the county no longer needed to pay into my retirement, my pension money would be invested for me, and the state earned interest on that investment. We were all happy, or so I thought. Unfortunately, I was soon called a double-dipper, with my few dollars being compared to those making 10 times my salary, and my earned pension was suddenly a burden to the state.
Then I sat by and watched as the state started taking 3 percent of every teacher’s salary to help pay for the cost of the pension fund. These are the same teachers who received lower salaries because they were promised the state would pay for their pensions. To this day the teachers have not received a salary increase that would come close to matching the money they put into the pension fund.
Now I continue to sit and watch as the legislators again tear apart the Florida Retirement System and the people who depend on it.
Luckily, when I was 22 there were politicians who knew I didn’t have a clue about growing older. My concerns at that time were learning how to live on my own, start a new job and become a productive member of society. Retirement was not in my vocabulary. The wise men and women of the Florida Legislature thought for me and placed me in a pension plan. For 40 years I also put money aside each month in a 401(k). Thanks to powers out of my control and administration fees, this money earned slightly less than I put into it. Keeping my money under the mattress may have been a better option. This is similar to the investment plan the legislators want for our new hires (Defined Contribution Plan). If I had only this money to live on, I would now be at the mercy of the state and taxpayers to provide for my welfare.
Teachers feel like they have been thrown under the bus. They are powerless and convinced that no one really is listening to them. It is my feeling that we are facing the perfect storm in education. The baby boomers are leaving. Thanks to the changes to the DROP program in 2011, about 40,000 people will leave public service in 2016. Because women now have many career choices, fewer are going into education. Many of those who graduate in education are leaving the state because they feel the Legislature does not respect teachers — and I can’t disagree with them.
When will all of this end?
The writer is the legislative co-chair for the Florida Retired Educators Association.