Suggested reforms for Pennsylvania’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System

Link:https://reason.org/commentary/suggested-reforms-for-the-pennsylvania-teacher-pension-system/?utm_medium=email

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Despite realizing excellent investment returns in 2021, industry capital market forecasts continue to suggest persistently volatile near-term investment returns that stand to only add to over $1 trillion in current pension funding shortfalls. Most near-term investment outlooks we’ve seen from pension boards across the country predict anywhere from a 6.0 percent-6.3 percent return over the next 10 years. PSERS’ assumed rate of return was recently lowered and currently sits at 7 percent.*

PSERS’s investment outlook is similar to these broad projections. Figures 1 and 2 present the results of the Monte Carlo simulation analysis developed by the Pension Integrity Project. This iterative analysis uses 10,000 simulations of PSERS’s asset performance over 20 years, considering expected returns and volatilities of plan assets, to generate both probabilities of hitting certain returns and expected return distributions.

These findings suggest that PSERS is not likely to achieve even a 6 percent average return over the next 10-15 years—much less its current assumed return of 7 percent. This suggests there is a high probability that the public pension plan’s unfunded liabilities could get worse, not better, in the near-to-mid term. This underperformance—relative to the plan’s own return rate assumptions—will make the system’s long-term solvency challenges even larger.

Author(s): Jordan Campbell, Ryan Frost

Publication Date: 11 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Reason

Education advocates: Pension savings system reinforces inequities in CT’s schools

Link:https://ctmirror.org/2021/12/16/education-advocates-pension-savings-system-reinforces-inequities-in-cts-schools/

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Two Connecticut governors have tried — and failed — to shift some of the massive cost of teacher pensions onto municipalities, arguing it’s inherently unfair for the state to foot the entire bill.
Education equity advocates hope to resurrect that debate this year — with a big twist.
Rather than trying to bolster the state’s coffers, the Connecticut chapter of Education Reform Now (ERN) wants the state to bill the wealthiest school districts and use at least some of those resources to help the poorest communities.

….

Connecticut’s second-largest education-related expenditure  — about 7% of the General Fund or $1.44 billion this fiscal year — is the required annual contribution to the teachers’ pension fund. That hefty pension contribution consumes resources that normally would be spent on school operations or other core programs in the state budget.
For most states, this pension expense is much less. According to ERN, Connecticut is one of only seven states that spare towns from contributing toward teacher pension costs.

Author(s): Keith Phaneuf

Publication Date: 16 Dec 2021

Publication Site: CT Mirror

Ohio Teachers Pension Faces Special Audit Over Scathing Report

Link:https://www.ai-cio.com/news/ohio-teachers-pension-faces-special-audit-over-scathing-report/

Excerpt:

The $95 billion Ohio State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) is facing a special state audit over a report that accuses the pension fund of secretly collaborating with Wall Street firms, lacking transparency, and wasting billions of dollars.

In June, Benchmark Financial Services released preliminary findings of a forensic investigation of Ohio STRS titled “The High Cost of Secrecy.” The report ripped into the retirement system, saying it “has long abandoned transparency, choosing instead to collaborate with Wall Street firms to eviscerate Ohio public records laws and avoid accountability.”

The Ohio Auditor of State’s Office recently sent a letter to Ohio STRS Executive Director William Neville saying it has received “numerous complaints” regarding the report and that it had conducted a preliminary examination into the matter.

Author(s): Michael Katz

Publication Date: 25 Oct 2021

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Retirement Debt Eating Up State Funding to Louisiana Schools

Link:https://www.bizneworleans.com/retirement-debt-eating-up-state-funding-to-louisiana-schools/

Excerpt:

Nearly $1 of every $4 in state aid sent annually to Louisiana’s public schools disappears before it reaches classrooms, siphoned away to pay retirement obligations that cost $853 million a year, according to a new report from the legislative auditor.

The retirement debt payment amounts to $1,302 per student and swallows an average of 10% in the total funding available for schools from state, local and other sources, according to the 44-page review from Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack’s office.

The Advocate reports the audit said the Louisiana Legislature might want to consider revamping how the retirement debt for former teachers is handled in a way “that could be less burdensome for participating schools.”

State aid for public schools totaled $3.9 billion for the 2019-20 budget year reviewed by auditors. The teacher debt obligation grabbed 24% of that allocation, the report says. A total of 1,355 traditional and charter schools take part in the retirement system.

Author(s): Associated Press

Publication Date: 24 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Biz New Orleans

Jim Dey | After a year, Teachers’ Retirement System’s dirty laundry put on display

Link: https://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/columns/jim-dey-after-a-year-teachers-retirement-systems-dirty-laundry-put-on-display/article_f9668f4b-1a9f-512f-b2b4-e04a58b7b08d.html#new_tab

Excerpt:

There was a personnel earthquake in the summer of 2020 at the Teachers’ Retirement System in Springfield.

Ultimately, five high-ranking employees were removed from their positions, including executive director Richard Ingram. The tumult generated clouds of uncertainly that only recently started to clear, revealing improper and possibly criminal behavior.

Although mum at first, TRS officials recently released their first lengthy statement about what occurred, disclosing that a new employee purposely maintained a conflict of interest that he falsely claimed to have ended.

…..

The OEIG report states the scandal dates back to 2018, when the TRS “began the process of constructing a new pension system that it called the Gemini Project.” Urbanek said the Gemini system recently went online.

That required hiring outside information technology professionals. Singh and his company — Singh 3 Consulting — were initially hired as a contractor. But in 2019, the TRS hired Singh as a permanent employee, the hiring predicated on Singh terminating his relationship with his company.

He told the TRS he had done so. But no one apparently ever checked, because subsequent investigations revealed Singh remained president and chief executive officer.

Author(s): Jim Dey

Publication Date: 12 September 2021

Publication Site: The News-Gazette

One Year After Teachers’ Retirement System Head’s Departure, Report Details More Turnover At Top

Link: https://www.nprillinois.org/statehouse/2021-09-08/one-year-after-teachers-retirement-system-heads-departure-report-details-more-turnover-at-top-1

Excerpt:

One year after the head of Illinois’ largest public employee pension fund resigned due to what the fund has only described at “performance issues,” a recently published report by the state’s chief ethics officer reveals the circumstances behind the departures of two more former high-ranking officials at the pension fund in 2020.

The former chief information officer at the Illinois’ Teachers’ Retirement System repeatedly directed contracts toward the company he founded and also lied about having severed ties with the company, according to a report published last month by Illinois Executive Inspector General Susan Haling. TRS manages the pensions of more than 427,000 current and retired teachers as well as pension beneficiaries.

The report centers on former CIO Jay Singh’s conflicts of interest, but also brings to light the firing of TRS’ former chief financial officer, Jana Bergschneider, who was fired last July as the investigation unfolded. Singh resigned in April of last year, two months after he was interviewed as part of an internal investigation into his conflicts of interest.

….

Bergschneider was terminated from TRS on July 2, 2020 based upon her “work performance and conduct related to the procurement process on the Gemini Project,” the OEIG report said, apparently quoting from a reason given to investigators by the pension fund.

Ingram was placed on administrative leave at the end of that month — a result of the TRS board’s unanimous vote after an investigation into performance issued conducted by Chicago Law firms King and Spalding. He resigned a few days later and TRS remains tight-lipped about the exact reason for Ingram’s departure, calling it a personnel matter.

But Urbanek reiterated to NPR Illinois the same reasoning given every inquiring media outlet in the last year: that Ingram “had difficulties meeting performance metrics in his contract.”

Author(s): Hannah Meisel

Publication Date: 8 September 2021

Publication Site: NPR Illinois

Suburban Residents Risk Losing Homes Over Rising Pension Costs

Link: https://www.riverbender.com/articles/details/suburban-residents-risk-losing-homes-over-rising-pension-costs-52884.cfm

Excerpt:

In the 1990s, Illinois property tax bills were around the national average. But in the two decades from 1999 to 2019, we’ve seen a massive 65% increase in residential property taxes, adjusted for inflation. That increase is what drove Illinois to have one of the highest tax burdens in the nation.

The source of Patricia’s – and her fellow Illinoisans’ – property tax pains? Public employee pensions.

More than 70% of Patricia’s property tax bill goes to the school district. While school districts account for a significant portion of property tax bills in localities across the United States, school district budgets across Chicago and Illinois are getting devoured by underwater pension systems.

While the state is responsible for paying employer pension costs for teachers outside of Chicago, rising pension obligations mean more state dollars are spent on pensions, leaving more classroom costs for school districts to fund through property taxes.

Author(s): Amy Korte

Publication Date: 5 September 2021

Publication Site: Riverbender

Teacher Retirement Systems: A Ranking of the States

Link: https://bellwethereducation.org/publication/retirement-systems-ranking

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Teacher retirement plans are called “gold plated” by their proponents and critics alike, when in fact half of teachers will never see a pension at all. Only about one in five teachers gets a full pension. And in many cases retirement benefits shortchange teachers and make it harder for them to save for their retirement

In Teacher Retirement Systems: A Ranking of the States, Bellwether Education Partners ranks how state retirement systems serve U.S. teachers and taxpayers:

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Retirement programs don’t serve all teachers equitably. For teachers who work in the classroom for fewer than 10 years, 34 states receive an “F” for how well retirement plans prepare them for retirement. For teachers who work in the classroom for more than 10 years, but do not stay until retirement age, 23 states receive an “F” ranking.

Link to full report: https://bellwethereducation.org/sites/default/files/Teacher%20Retirement%20Systems%20-%20A%20Ranking%20of%20the%20States%20-%20Bellwether%20Education%20Partners%20-%20FINAL.pdf

Author(s):

MAX MARCHITELLO
ANDREW J. ROTHERHAM
JULIET SQUIRE

Publication Date: 31 August 2021

Publication Site: Bellwether Education Partners

Teacher Retirement Systems: A Ranking of the States

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Bellwether Education Partners is a “national nonprofit focused on dramatically changing education and life outcomes for underserved children. [They] do this by helping education organizations accelerate their impact and by working to improve policy and practice.” And making good money* doing whatever that means.

Apparently this think tank got some interns to go through official teacher pension data reported by the 50 states and the District of Columbia to come up with rankings. New Jersey was not last overall (probably on account of the ARP money that went into the pension this year) but Medium-term and Long-term New Jersey did come in last…..and by a lot.

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 3 September 2021

Publication Site: burypensions

Known unknowns – teacher salaries

Link: https://allisonschrager.substack.com/p/known-unknowns-0a3

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 My colleague at Bloomberg writes we’ll have to pay teachers more to get them to return to work. Their pay has been stagnant for a decade. But their compensation has not been. A very large part of teachers’ compensation comes in the form of a massive risk-free asset—a defined benefit pension. The value of this pension increased as real interest rates fell. It not only took more resources for the states and municipalities to finance (assuming the pension funds were well funded—a big if) the pension when rates were low. The pension became more valuable.

So teachers really got large raises in the form of their more valuable pension. The problem is they don’t fully internalize how much more their pension is worth. Also, pensions are less valuable for young teachers who may change jobs one day. If we do want to increase teachers’ pay, we really need to reform the pensions. Reform would free up more money for salaries, and there’s evidence young teachers prefer more flexible compensation.

That probably won’t happen since the teachers’ union is very attached to its defined benefit plan. But you can’t have it all, even in this labor market.

Author(s): Allison Schrager

Publication Date: 7 June 2021

Publication Site: Known unknowns at substack

Pennsylvania’s Biggest Pension Racks Up Costs After Misreporting Returns

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/pennsylvanias-biggest-pension-racks-up-costs-after-misreporting-returns-11620990002

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The board of trustees overseeing the $62 billion Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System has spent more than $1 million so far to investigate and contain fallout from an inaccurate report on investment results delivered late last year. The report led to a mistaken conclusion that no increase in employee pension contributions would be needed this year.

The system’s trustees have hired batteries of lawyers since the mistake was revealed. The board said in April that it had hired law firms to conduct an investigation into the miscalculation and to respond to a federal grand jury subpoena requesting documents. It couldn’t be determined whether the subpoena relates to the miscalculation.

…..

However, in March the pension system said that the actual nine-year return came to 6.34%, triggering an increase in employee pension contributions reportedly affecting some 100,000 workers whose contributions will increase by 0.50% to 0.75% starting July 1. For instance, a school worker who earns about $45,000 annually would have roughly $8.65 withheld from each biweekly paycheck, the system’s website explains.

Author(s): Preeti Singh

Publication Date: 14 May 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

PSERS bet big on this scrubs brand whose IPO boosted a Steelers owner’s billions

Link: https://www.inquirer.com/business/figs-scrubs-psers-steelers-tull-ipo-20210602.html

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Figs Inc., which sells stylish hospital scrubs, has pulled off a successful public stock offering that has enriched a Pittsburgh investor along with Pennsylvania’s beleaguered school pension fund and other early backers, at least on paper.

Investors’ appetite for attractive new stocks appears to have paid off for Thomas Tull, a billionaire tech investor and Steelers part-owner, by more than $20-$1, while quadrupling the PSERS pension fund’s investment — if it can cash out its shares at today’s bullish prices.

Early private investors typically face a “lock-up” period, often six months, before they can sell all shares. The stock could gain value or crash before the shares are sold.

Still, a big Figs payday would be a boost to beleaguered PSERS chief investment officer James Grossman. His team’s complex and often secretive investments have been criticized by a growing reform faction of PSERS trustees who say the fund could do better in low-cost index funds.

Author(s): Joseph N. DiStefano

Publication Date: 2 June 2021

Publication Site: The Philadelphia Inquirer