The Darien Times has received copies letters from the Board of Ed (dated May 3) and from Western Connecticut Council of Governments (dated May 10), of which Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson serves as chairman. Read their letters below.
To the Appropriations Committee and Finance Committee:
I write to you on behalf of the Town of Darien Board of Education and our concerns over discussions as they relate to the Teacher Pension System.
We acknowledge decades of long mismanagement of this system and the need to make continued significant investment into a system long underfunded. We welcome well thought out plans to remedy this situation for the overall good of Connecticut, and to honor the obligations made to our teachers, whom we value and rely upon.
However, we oppose the current proposal as discussed by the Governor which asks municipalities to “dig deep” and help fund the pension deficit, acknowledging that some communities are in a better financial position to do so. At the same time, the proposal continues to ask more from these communities by levying an additional fee based on the average state teacher salary. This additional fee does not take into account the realities that many districts face in hiring and negotiating with teachers.
As locally elected State agents, we act as good stewards in representing our local district and honoring the State Constitution which explicitly provides a right to education. As part of that responsibility, we recognize that teachers must receive a wage which values their profession and is reflective of the cost they bear to live locally, or within any surrounding radius. This is why when we negotiate contracts we are deliberate, respectful, and fiscally responsible. We fear this additional surcharge will create unforeseen pressures.
Also, we have concerns about any local funds being sent to the State to help stabilize the Teacher Pension System, since we have not seen controls or guarantees that funds would become expressly dedicated, and could not be diverted to other areas.
Lastly, there are concerns that the proposal in its current form would require significant analysis to determine which municipalities are responsible for what segments of a teacher pension over his/her career. If the last district of employment is responsible for the total pension earned over an entire career, concerns could be raised over healthy employment movement opportunities.
We respectfully remind the committee that local Boards of Education are your state agents living, managing and often times implementing the results of your decisions. We hope you will weigh our perspective carefully as you tackle this difficult issue.
Tara B. Ochman
Chair, Darien Board of Education
At its last meeting, the members of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments voted unanimously to oppose any transfer of responsibility for the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) to the state’s municipalities. The reasons for this opposition are threefold:
1. Local governments in Connecticut had no role in underfunding TRS. Holding one party responsible for the debt of another is bad policy and sets an unmanageable precedent. What bank will lend to a municipality that may be subject to a transfer of potentially unlimited liability? What business will expand in Connecticut when local finances and, consequently, property tax bills are wholly unpredictable?
2. Local governments in Connecticut had and continue to have no role in governing TRS, including setting benefit levels, making investment choices, and assuming rates of return. Putting municipalities into the position of a third-party payer without giving them control over these critical decisions will further erode fiscal constraint.
3. With few alternative revenue options, Connecticut municipalities are more dependent on the local property tax than municipalities in 48 other states. Transferring a large liability such as TRS to municipalities will result increases in the state’s single largest tax, and further dependence on a tax on which the state is already too dependent.
Proposals to shift responsibility for TRS to municipalities do not solve the state’s fiscal problems; they expand them to municipal governments, exposing new parties to financial uncertainty and further destabilizing the state. We are willing to work with the state to address its ills, provided responsibility for TRS remains where it belongs—with the state. Spreading an illness around is never the solution.
WestCOG Chair Person and First Selectman of the Town of Darien