Letter: Pension reforms support learning

The decade I spent at Clarkston Community Schools — including time as a civics and history teacher, administrator and wrestling coach — were among the most important and rewarding years of my life.

My wife, Nancy, is a counselor with Lake Orion Community Schools. I have several other relatives who have devoted their careers to education. I would never vote in favor of something that hurts public education, Michigan’s kids or our hard-working educators. It goes against the family DNA.

After long conversations with educators and exhaustive research, I came to the steadfast conclusion that pending changes to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System are without a doubt pro-education — necessary to give our schools their best chance at success for future generations.

This legislation recently approved in the Michigan House and Senate met several important criteria needed to gain my support.

These reforms protect and preserve pensions earned by current retirees. They protect and preserve pensions earned by educators working in Michigan schools. They ensure an attractive compensation package with options for new hires — the educators who will teach our children for decades to come. And they protect Michigan taxpayers, whose money we as legislators are obligated to be good stewards of in all decisions.

We can’t afford the future that awaits us if these changes are not put into place. Our school employee retirement system has massive unfunded liabilities, including $29 billion in pension debt alone. Already, more than a third of school payroll goes to pay off pension debt. That percentage would soar in future decades as retirement bills come due, taking more and more money away from programs that benefit students and restricting educators’ wages.

I am proud and pleased we responsibly began to address these challenges with these reforms, including a $200 million payment toward erasing debt in our next budget year. Retired and current educators deserve what they’ve been promised. Our new hires who will be the educators of the future deserve choice and flexibility for their retirement.

And most importantly, our children deserve an education system that puts funding to help them in the classroom ahead of everything else.

These common-sense reforms will help deliver that brighter future to Michigan’s public school system.

Rep. Jim Tedder, Clarkston