Recent letters-to-the-editor suggest that some folks would vote for the upcoming referendum were the district to consider changes to district retirement benefits.
On Dec. 29, one letter stated, “Vote ‘yes’ on the referendum to preserve education because of its importance to the individual and the economy. But bring pressure on the Rhinelander school board to control costs as past school boards have agreed to unaffordable benefits packages for early retirees and have not been concerned with tax increases to pay for those benefits.”
Some benefit issues are outside of local control. The laws of the State of Wisconsin dictate the age at which a person is eligible for any benefit from the retirement system. Thus, these are state level issues and local students should not be punished for frustration with these by a failed referendum vote. They have already been left exposed by Wisconsin’s flawed funding formula.
However, the district has, in fact, listened to its constituents regarding retirement benefits it can control. For starters, they eliminated a $12,000 stipend, a $2,000 per year sum of money that could be used by the retiree to offset rapidly rising insurance costs, for new hires when they reach eligibility for retirement benefits. Federal tax laws allowed for this yearly amount to be paid out over a six-year time period.
Also, In February 2012, the board approved a district-sponsored tax sheltered annuity (TSA) and a health reimbursement account (HRA) program for new employees. This change in benefit for an eligible retiree is estimated to save the district from $150,000 to $180,000 when compared to the previous health insurance benefit and reduces the district’s actuarial costs for other post retirement benefits.
This was coupled with changes at the state level brought on by Governor Walker’s Act 10. Per the legislation, district employees are paying approximately $900 more a year for health insurance than they were just two years ago. This increase, combined with required contributions, has dropped employee incomes 8 to 10 percent with another 3 percent coming off paychecks this January.
All told, retirement benefits are very much changed, changes made commensurate with financial realities. The district is doing its part in seeking cost savings.
The above-mentioned letter said, if concerns were heard, “Students and their education cannot afford to have the latest referendum voted down.” You have been heard.
So, let’s all vote “yes” on the operating funds referendum on Feb. 19.
Fred Lintereur, Rhinelander