The Lead

State teachers union calls for Pa. pension board to resign in face of investigations

By: - May 20, 2021 5:30 pm

The union representing 36,000 Pennsylvania educators has called for the resignation of most of the trustees of the state teacher’s pension fund.

In a two-page letter sent Thursday, the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents educators in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, called for every Public School Employees Retirement System board member appointed prior to January 2021 to step down.

Arguing that teachers join the profession to help children at little pay but with the promise of a secure retirement, state union president Arthur Steinberg argued that two ongoing investigations, one internal, the other by the FBI, had “jeopardized the present and future financial security of our Commonwealth’s most dedicated public servants.”

The board manages more than $60 billion in assets to pay for the current and future retirements of 600,000 educators. 

But since the new year, the board has been the center of controversy. First, the board approved a faulty performance benchmark that prevented an increase in educators’ retirement contributions. 

The exact circumstances that led the board to approve the erroneous numbers are still unclear and under internal investigation. But PSERS has since revoked its approval, forcing almost 100,000 state educators hired since 2011 to pay an average of $180 dollars more a year into the system.

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AFT met the board’s move to decertify its returns, increasing contributions rates, with skepticism and threatened legal action. 

The state’s other, larger teachers union — the 181,000-strong Pennsylvania State Education Association — said it was disappointed but said that PSERS complied with the law.

On top of numbers, the system’s staff is under investigation by the FBI for possible kickbacks or bribery, according to subpoenas reviewed by Spotlight PA, an online news outlet.

Most of this has been revealed behind closed doors in hours-long executive sessions, with little public acknowledgement of the ongoing issues.

“With the scant information presently available to the public, it is difficult, if not impossible to have any semblance of confidence in the PSERS Board or staff to correct the course,” Steinberg said.

The call for resignations would apply to all but two of the 15-member board — State Sen. Katie Muth, D-Chester, and GOP state Treasurer Stacy Garrity.

One current board member, former state Treasurer Joe Torsella, was part of the board earlier, lost his seat when he lost reelection in 2020. He was reappointed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

A spokesperson clarified that the union want the pensions board’s staff to be fired as well

The board includes lawmakers from both parties, members of Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration, as well as five active or retired pension recipients.

Of those recipients, none are current or former members of AFT, Steinberg noted in his letter.

“We would welcome the opportunity to participate in an open and transparent process to appoint new members of the Board,” the letter concludes.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.