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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Over and Over

Now that the end is nigh for the latest dustup in Salem (next week sometime), PERS members have escaped another session without any further attempts to lower future PERS benefits.  But, this is probably not cause for any celebration.  Unfortunately, the mad-at-PERS set will almost certainly set their sights on either the November ballot box, or next February’s long (6 month) session.  Insofar as November is concerned, I’ve heard rumors of at least two ballot initiatives being developed to take the PERS matter out of the Legislature’s hands.  Those are usually very blunt instruments that rarely survive court challenges, but PERS would be obligated to enforce any changes until the Supreme Court rules on their outcome in 2019 or so.  The second route would be the Legislative route.  You can be sure that the Bend Republicans will fine-tune their 2016 “screw all PERS members” bill and reintroduce it in 2017.  And there are probably another half dozen “legislative concepts” floating around for 2017.  Eventually, those will be revealed, as they will require PERS input to evaluate their potential financial impacts.


While what I write isn’t much of a surprise to those who keep track of the attempts to alter PERS benefits, the vast majority of PERS members (not retirees) are oblivious to much of this background, yet they will be the ones to suffer the most drastic impacts should any of these succeed.  The Moro court pretty much slammed the door (unanimously) on any changes to benefits of those already retired, so unless I’m completely misreading the tea leaves, rumors, innuendo, and reliable sources of information, there is nothing out there that could potentially harm the already-retired.  All that said, I want to reiterate a point I’ve made over and over.  In Oregon, ELECTIONS MATTER.  Who we choose as Governor, members of the judiciary, DOJ, and members of the Legislature make a huge difference in the fate of PERS bills.  Right now, the Ds have a commanding majority in all levels of Government in Oregon.  I advocate for no candidate and no party, but reiterate that ELECTIONS MATTER.  Pay close attention to who is running.  Make an effort to go to the various town halls, arrange one-on-one with candidates, especially the ones who have no record on PERS support or opposition.  Do not depend on lobbyists or labor to do the heavy lifting.  I’ve found that personal contact makes a huge difference.  Personalize your story, what impact changes will have on you and your family, remind the candidates how many voters are in your family.  Make them hear your story and remind them that 99% of PERS members are ordinary, hard working citizens who have counted on the promised benefits to support them in their retirement.  Also educate them that not one element of the PERS benefits has been under your control, but that your decision to work or leave depends largely on the promised benefits.  Take them away, or alter them negatively, and your incentive to continue to do your hard, necessary job might vanish.  

Finally, for those who just read conclusions, my primary point is ELECTIONS MATTER.  Pay attention and vote in November’s election.  It also might help to influence outcomes by voting in the May primary.



Beholdacandle said...

Well said, Marc. Elections do matter. As far as teachers go, there is already a national shortage. Making life more difficult for them is not the way to encourage more people to become teachers. Cutting of pension benefits does not help to hire or keep teachers. Efforts of legislators in the past to improve education have generally involved punitive measures that simply punish schools that are not achieving according to the results of increasing numbers of standardized tests. These take valuable classroom time and teacher time. Just like our prison system, simply applying punitive measures doesn't work. Putting money and training and other resources in the hands of classroom teachers of all subjects will be what works.

mrfearless47 said...

I have vowed that I will never vote for another school bond issue again unless and until the local school district can document clearly, transparently, and openly exactly how the money will flow directly to the classroom. The "it's for the children" crowd refuses to endorse common-sense measures that would permit the legislature to actually audit the flow of money through the school systems it has been forced to support. I guarantee you than 95% of the extra dollars temporarily provided to the districts from the effort to cut the COLA payments to retirees never made it into the classroom in any way, shape, or form. I brought this up in a hearing on SB 861, and challenged the leaders of both parties to support the audit principle. Not only was I yelled out for being intemperate (guilty as charged), but I was pulled aside by one school superintendent and told that he would never permit the Leg to audit his district's books. I rest my case.

Phil H. said...

Marc that information, showing expenditures by school district, by funding sources, by function has been available on the ODE website for some time. It can be obtained at http://www.ode.state.or.us/sfda/reports/r0047Select.asp

mrfearless47 said...

Phil. That is good to know, but what I'm talking about would be more like putting a radioactive tracer on new dollars that are "for the children" so we can see exactly how they, specifically, flow through the system. As an educator, I know a lot about school budgets, and I've
Tried many times to "follow the money" whenever the budgets have been legislatively increased. Since money comes from so many different sources, it is often impossible to trace money from its source to final expenditure, and I've tried. Unless a new category appears in the budget - say, teacher aides - that wasn't there before, it would be hard to infer much of anything about financial sources for any dollar spent, whether E&G funds, federal funds, county funds, city funds, rentals, grants, contracts, or, in my case, tuition and fees.

Phil H. said...

True. The problem is that $$$ are received from a particular source as a lump sum and then allocated accordingly. The accounting question of "which dollar is spent first" is not solvable. So, this is really a budgeting issue, not an accounting issue. The only way to determine exactly where these particular dollars are designated would be if the districts budgeted all other resources first, and then created a final budget including these dollars. But, even this method is not perfect.

mrfearless47 said...

Phil. I'm glad we can agree on the basic problem. Another issue that arises when talking about "for the children" issues is defining exactly what the phrase means. If we agree that it refers to money that relates to direct instructional improvements, would we state that new books, new technologies goes, smaller class sizes (I.e. More teachers for the same number of students), improved libraries, teacher aides, fewer standardized tests, and a host of other things would count as direct benefits to students? What about increasing the salaries of those currently teaching? Is that considered flowing through to the students? Is there any evidence that increasing teacher salaries improves instructional outcomes? I doubt it, but would consider any supporting evidence. I know I'm asking for something nearly impossible in practice to achieve because of the way the legislature allocates funds to the K-12 public schools in the state. But I really like the metaphorical concept of a new radioisotope method to follow the dollars through the system. It would make my life so much simpler.