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Palisades School Board petitions for pension funding solutions

By Lou Gombocz, Jr., WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 16 2014 05:03:18 AM CST
Palisades School Board 1-15-14
KINTNERSVILLE, Pa. -

The Palisades School Board Wednesday night passed a resolution by a vote of 8-1 that petitions the state legislature to find other funding sources and make changes in the current Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS).

The PSERS is the pension plan for Palisades teachers. The only vote against pension funding reform came from Edward Ruisz, a school board director and retired Palisades teacher.

The resolution also recommends "examining the possibility of adopting a hybrid pension plan" designed to reduce what it would cost the school district each fiscal year to contribute to its pension plan.

Between fiscal years 2014 and 2018, projected pension costs to Palisades will dramatically increase -- on average -- approximately $700,000 per year to be paid for with school tax dollars.

However, Ruisz stated referring to his declining vote, "I just can't sign off on cutting pensions for people who've taught here for 20 and 30 years." He continued, referring specifically to the "hybrid" pension idea, "It's understandable for those just starting their careers, but I have a problem with 10 and 20-year teachers being shifted to a different pension plan."

"You can't promise a pension plan to employees and take it away from them in the end, " exclaimed Ruisz.

However, without pension reform and with consistent contribution increases by fiscal year 2034-35, public schools across the state will be contributing a whopping 32 percent to PSERS retirement pensions.

Board member Bernadette Decker said that cost would be too pricey for elderly district residents on fixed incomes to pay. She also expressed her disdain
for possible teacher layoffs and other cost-cutting measures in order to cope with rising pension costs.

School Board Director Stephen Kunkel, who also voted in support of pension reform.

"A huge amount of money has to come from somewhere to keep the pension plan going," Kunkel said.

When asked how Palisades will afford next school year's nearly 25 percent pension costs totaling $517,000, School Board Director and Treasurer Charles DeGroot said unlike other school districts, Palisades planned ahead years ago and established a special savings account to pay its pensions.

Each school director was asked to personally sign the resolution which will be forwarded to neighboring school districts asking for their support in petitioning Harrisburg for the pension funding changes.