Retired teachers meet in Austin for annual convention rally day at the Capitol

Huajilla Unit President Irene Dubberly, left, and Earline Schlortt met with Rep. Andrew Murr after attending the TRTA 2019 State Convention on April 1-2 and later participating in Capitol Rally Day on April 3.

Earline Schlortt and Irene Dubberly, members of the Huajilla Unit of Retired Teachers, were among the more than 1,000 retired educators who met at the Austin-Hilton as delegates to the Texas Retired Teachers Association’s (TRTA) 66th Annual Convention. Attendees from all over Texas participated in the convention April 1-2, followed by advocacy and ice cream social on the Capitol grounds on April 3. Members discussed their TRS pension fund, the need for a cost-of-living adjustment, and the importance of adequate and affordable health care at sessions and later met with their respective senators and representatives to reiterate their concerns as public school retirees.
“Last session, retirees worked with legislators to help resolve a health care funding crisis,” TRTA President Patricia Macias said. “Despite changes made during the regular 85th Legislative Session and Special Session, the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program has another shortfall of about $230 million. Public education retirees have lived on stagnant incomes and are struggling with high premium increases that went into effect last January. Many have never received a cost-of-living increase since retiring and are trying to survive today on yesterday’s dollars!”
The convention, entitled “Connecting the Dots to TRTA’s Success,” focused on retirees, as well as active educators, working together to protect their current and future retirement benefits. Members are concerned about how the decision to lower the rate of return assumption for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension trust fund from 8 percent to 7.25 percent may affect their traditional defined benefit plan. TRTA opposes any effort to change the plan to a defined contribution or 401k-style plan for current or future retirees. TRTA supports the Legislature raising the base state contribution to secure the stability of the pension fund and help it reach actuarial soundness.
“TRS is a strong system that provides retirement security for 1 out of every 20 Texans,” said Tim Lee, TRTA Executive Director. “TRS is the sole form of retirement income for the vast majority of Texas educators, as 96 percent of school districts in the state do not pay into Social Security.” Retirees receive an average of $2,000 per month in their monthly annuities, while 32 percent receive $1,000 per month or less. “The only way retirees can receive a COLA is if their pension fund is considered actuarially sound by state law, meaning the fund needs to be able to pay off all of its liabilities within a 31-year period,” Lee said. “This can’t happen unless contributions to the fund are increased. It’s time to raise the base!”
“Education retirees are very engaged politically and know how important it is that we work across the aisle with all legislators,” said Tonna Duke, TRTA State Legislative Coordinator. “We are grateful for the efforts our Senators and Representatives have made and feel they genuinely care about us, and we will continue working with them on the legislation that’s been filed this session to shore up the pension fund and provide some financial relief for retirees.”
Schlortt and Dubberly had the opportunity to visit with Representative Andrew Murr; Senator Pete Flores was unavailable due to committee meetings. Schlortt also has interest in Hays County and visited with the respective representative and senator from that area.
Dubberly, President of the Huajilla Unit and 1st Vice President of District 20, is one of five members of the TRTA State Membership Committee and was involved with a workshop session related to membership growth. TRTA currently has 93,000-plusmembers and is setting a goal of 100,000 members by 2020 with a challenging campaign for membership growth. The Huajilla Unit membership comes from Concan to Devine; from Sabinal-Leakey-Utopia to Castroville; from Kerrville to Pearsall, and points in between, as well as members from out-of-area and out of state. The group generally meets on the fourth Monday of the month from September to May. The members sponsor a yearly book project for young readers, collect donations for the TRTA Foundation which funds scholarships and monetary assistance to retirees who have been victims of tragedy, and awards two $500 scholarships to current high school graduates who have an interest in focusing on a career in public school education.