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Opinion: What’s driving up your property taxes and forcing teacher layoffs

Suzanne Bates.

The retirement security of our teachers and the health of the state budget are both at risk because the teachers’ pension system is in such bad shape. The growing cost of this system is also stopping money from getting to classrooms and kids. 

How bad is it? Gov. Malloy wants to shift one-third of the costs onto municipalities in order to help the state’s balance sheet. In response, teacher layoffs and/or property tax increases have been threatened across the state. 

One thing is clear: taxpayers, teachers and students are all paying for past pension funding mistakes.  

 Our new study, The Connecticut Teachers’ Retirement System: Can It Be Stabilized?, explains the problems in the pension system and outlines possible reforms to stabilize the system and preserve it for future generations.

 Author of the study Eric Halpern, a financial risk expert and actuary, said “these ballooning costs threaten to crowd out other state spending priorities – including spending on present educational needs – as current taxpayers shoulder financial burdens for promises made long ago.”

 Connecticut needs to make reforms to the teacher pension system so our future teachers and students won’t suffer for the mistakes of the past.

 Download the full study here.

Suzanne Bates is the Director of Policy and Legislative Outreach for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy.

25 comments

Donna April 21, 2017 at 9:12 am

Who receives a pension anymore? Pensions are costly luxuries that bankrupt cities and states. Teachers unions and collective bargaining had their place in the past. But now the unions appear to exist to benefit the unions. What is less clear is how a strong union that resists cost saving measures benefits the students the school system is meant to serve.
While I used to be opposed to charter schools, I’m starting to see the light. How else can the union stranglehold be stopped?

Isabelle Hargrove April 21, 2017 at 11:25 am

Thank you for finally posting something from a conservative think tank!

It is time for residents and taxpayers to fight back, put pressure on Hartford and Norwalk officials, and elect people willing to take on unions and force change. It has been done in other states.

But how can this possibly happen in CT when our speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, holds a leadership position in the AFSCME, an influential public-employee union, and the treasurer of our Mayor’s re-election campaign is the husband of the president of the Norwalk teachers’ union, Mary Yordon (whose recent actions are forcing Norwalk to lay off nearly 100 teachers). These are two examples of relationships that should make all of us, regardless of party affiliation, very, very uncomfortable!

Anne Sullivan April 21, 2017 at 6:38 pm

Donna, just as an FYI teachers do not receive social security benefits. The pension replaces that.

Nancy Rosett April 21, 2017 at 8:20 pm

As a retiree who does not have a pension, I understand the other posters comments.

However, I’m not sure they understand teachers in Connecticut do not pay into Social Security – and the school systems are spared their matching contributions which would be required if the teachers were covered by social security. Teachers have money deducted from their paychecks which are deposited with the teacher state retirement fund.

Bryan Meek April 21, 2017 at 8:23 pm

@Anne. SSA recipients pay in 12.6% of their wages. MERS and TRS recipients put in far, far less towards their retirement.

The average SSA recipient draws $17k in benefits this year with zero % cola.

The average TRS retiree is drawing $50k in benefits this year plus colas. On top of that 25% of the benefit is not taxable this year. Next year it goes up to 50%.

I don’t begrudge anyone for making what they make, getting what they get….but this current system is simply not sustainable.

The result of this is all around you, crumbling infrastructure and lack of economic opportunity due to onerous taxation.

MarjorieM April 21, 2017 at 8:27 pm

People who don’t understand that pensions replace social security give teachers a bad reputation. New York teachers get pensions, social security and lifetime insurance benefits. Please do your homework before bashing Connecticut teachers.

NonPartisan April 21, 2017 at 9:31 pm

Marjorie
Do you think it’s fair that public employees receive benefits, salaries and preferential tax treatment that the taxpayers that pay them do not receive themselves.

I’m ok with paying my fair share. Are you ok with public employees taking more than their fair share?

MarjorieM April 21, 2017 at 10:34 pm

NonPartisan, I’m not. sure what you mean. Taxpayers with a master’s degree don’t receive salaries and benefits? I don’t know what preferential tax treatments are? I am unaware of any tax treatments for teachers.

NonPartisan April 22, 2017 at 7:03 am

Marjorie

Both my wife and I have masters. Neither of us have defined benefit ( pension) plans. We have 401k that are mostly money we put away. At age 67 we will be able to retire and receive social security. We will be stuck with Medicare and what ever additional insurance we pay for ourselves. At age 67 each of us will have worked 56 years to collect social security. My social secuirtity benefits will be appx 25,000 per year, and I’ll have to pay Ct income tax on that amount. If I die my estate receives no additional social security payments, and only what life insurance I bought and paid for out of pocket.

In Ct a teacher can retire after 25 years of service. Assuming a 100k salary the last 3 years and 35 years of service the pension payment would be about 60k/yr. Last year the state made teachers pensions ( and only teachers pensions) no Ct income tax (25% this year 50% next year and so on) me- I’ll pay Ct income tax on my social security. if the teacher in this example passes away at age 60 their estate would receive over $300,000. Mine- none. Insurance- for the teacher subsidized by the state. For me- whatever I pay for out of pocket.

So I really screwed up. I’m 56 and my stressful job and very long hours has gotten to me. If I became a teacher in Ct and put my 35 years in I’d be able to retire. Maybe get a part time job to even things out. But I guess I’ll work another 11 years and hope I’ll live that long.

NonPartisan April 22, 2017 at 7:26 am

Typo – at age 67 each of us would have worked over 50 years each.

And in terms of health insurance our annual cost is about 15k ( me and spouse only) for a crap plan. What does a teacher pay for the over the top health care plan they have ? This is why the state is very close to bankruptcy and our local real estate taxes are so dammed high

Norwalk is trying to get this cost under control. How does the teachers union respond? They would rather lay off young teachers, save senior Teachers jobs, and keep their over the top health insurance.

Btw- our real estate and personal property taxes ( for me- about 25k/ year) pay the teachers health insurance.

We would like to see more money spent per pupil. More teachers and more opportunities to learn.

I’m sorry but for me the unions attitude is disgusting. Time for charter schools.

Andrew April 22, 2017 at 9:10 am

The $100billion elephant in the room is the underfunded pension funds for all state and municipal employees – thats the total no body talks about is in this state. Currently the state is running a $1.7billion deficit for next year. So the money has to come from someone. Right now the legislature is arguing over who is going to be the one to bring the hammer down. The current governor has proposed the municipalities pay an extra $400million per year to the fund for teachers (read: mayors must raise taxes), it is doubtful that they will vote for this, which means they must find the money somewhere. Either way we are going to pay and its going to get ugly fast.

One the latest ideas from Hartford is to change the equalization rate for property taxes. Currently the law caps the assessed value of the home at 70% of the appraised value. The new proposal would allow municipalities to raise that to 100%. Think your taxes are high now, just wait until the city can increase the assessed value. Very quick math – a $100,000 property is paying roughly $1,752 in taxes per year, new formula could be raised to $2,504.

Again, either way we are going to pay, because the promises outweigh the realty, its just a game between City Hall, Hartford and Washington of who we will blame.

Anne Sullivan April 22, 2017 at 10:49 am

@non-partisan- very, very few teachers retire under the circumstances you quote. Why not research state stats for true data? You might be surprised and find the amount to be much closer to social security levels.

NonPartisan April 22, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Hi Anne
I took my information from

http://www.ct.gov/trb/site/default.asp

And in Norwalk teachers have medical benefits that are significantly better than any one I know in theboricate sector.

And in Norwalk any teacher who stays 35 years and works the step incramanets will have the pension I described.

And every teacher in CT’s pension will be receiving preferential Ct income tax treatment.

I don’t mind paying my fair share. When will the teachers union stop taking more than their fair share for themselves?

NonPartisan April 22, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Anne
Perhaps you can explain to me why ( other than the current contract says you don’t have to agree)
Why the union would rather see young/newer teachers laid off, class size increase, overall education decline, vs a reduction in health care benefits equal to those received in our neighboring ( and much wealthier) towns.

Pretty sure Randy Weingarten would be embarrassed.

MarjorieM April 22, 2017 at 7:14 pm

Pretty sure this would not have happened if the money for insurance wasn’t taken to fund special education needs. Those special education needs, did I miss the results of that spending?

Bryan Meek April 22, 2017 at 10:39 pm

@MarjorieM. You are pretty sure if we didn’t spend 1.3 million on SPED over three years we wouldn’t have a $6.5 million hole in insurance funding this year? I hope you aren’t a math teacher.

David April 23, 2017 at 2:07 pm

I LOL at the people saying ‘they can’t have good pensions and health care benefits because I don’t’

Well, the good news is that as soon as we take it away from those that have it, no one will. We’ll all be equal. And miserable.

MarjorieM April 23, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Bryan Meek, I am quoting you:
The next largest item is health care costs which have exploded this year and it doesn’t help that we had to borrow from those funds to cover the next largest cost in Special education last year.

You were correct. It didn’t help, but 1.3 m would have saved jobs. (Not all, obviously) This, and reducing central office staff, as I previously suggested.

David April 23, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Donald, it was more of an observation than a point, but indulge me, what’s the illogical part??

Sue Haynie April 23, 2017 at 10:15 pm

The NFT doesn’t have a lot of room to complain about increases in SPED costs.

The SPED overages were related to an increase in out-placements. What’s one of the big reasons out-placements happen? Children aren’t being taught. Informed parents use their due process rights to negotiate their child’s right to FAPE (free appropriate public education).

Take as an example the largest SPED category, SLD/dyslexia (35%+/- ). 10’s of 1,000’s of kids statewide are classified under this category but yet legislation is just now being discussed to ensure pre-certified SPED teachers are trained in structured literacy so that they can identify, remediate and Teach these kids.

Why wasn’t the union screaming to get this knowledge-gap fixed years ago? Because a union’s job is to advocate for their members and fixing this didn’t directly benefit them.

Add to that:

•Perennial shortage of SPED teachers due to union rules.
• A SPED teacher certification deems the teacher ‘highly qualified’ to teach Every Subject in Every grade K-12 in All 13 categories of SPED under IDEA. (note to reader, this is impossible to do, and do well)
•Tenured, staff can’t be required to get additional certification, etc. beyond contract mandates.
•It is highly likely that a SPED teacher certified prior to 2013 had no courses At All in how to teach reading
•School assignment is based on union seniority not student need.
There’s more but those are the basics.

Donna April 23, 2017 at 10:43 pm

The union practice of rewarding seniority over competence and hanging onto tenure when there is no logical reason for a public school teacher to have job protection without accountability has not been defended by anyone on this thread. Guaranteed pay raises and pension obligations drive up ed budgets. Because priority is given to those with tenure and more senior stafff, the newer, less expensive teachers are the first to lose their jobs when there are budget cuts. The truly sad consequence of course is that you have to fire more of them to cover your shortfall because they don’t cost as much. So yeah, the whole system defies logic.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.