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CalRTA in the News

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Retired but Still Teaching
From the Merced Sun-Star...

Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2011

Retired but still teaching: Walking away from the classroom not so easy


Once a teacher always a teacher.

After a lifetime in the classroom, retired teachers are finding it's tough to just walk away from the chalkboard and textbook.

The Merced-Mariposa Division of the California Retired Teachers Association has 456 members and has been around for 55 years. Its members enjoy regular fellowship, excursions and advocacy for teacher retirement benefits.

Carol Luhring, 74, taught primary grades at Hopeton School in the Merced River School District and was vice principal for 10 years. She retired in 1997 but keeps her hand in by supporting adult literacy programs at the Merced County Library.

"You can't teach all those years like we did and just walk away from it," Luhring said.

Toby Masterson, 65, taught for 33 years, including two years in San Diego and the rest with fourth- and fifth-graders in the Winton School District.

Retired for four years, Masterson still substitutes with the Merced City School District and Merced County Office of Education. Now he's doing a long-term sub assignment at Campus Park School in Livingston, including offering students after-school assistance with their homework.

"It's difficult to break free," Masterson said. "It's hard to get out of it. For the first year I was climbing the walls. I've always been very involved in teachers' organizations."

Rich Gipson, 64, is president of the local association and described the group as stimulating. "It's not just a retirement group," Gipson said. "It's much more than that. This organization is vital, alive and active. We remain active politically and socially."

Masterson said Cal-RTA is 81 years old and has 50,000 members statewide. "We do all sorts of fun things," Masterson said. "We have a function of some sort each month. I come to the meetings to see old friends."

Alma Kollmann, 79, comes from a long line of teachers. Her grandmother, Minnie Wrinkle, started in the Merced City School District in 1921 and taught about 25 years. Her mother, Gladys Fitchett, taught at Farmdale and Weaver schools along with the MCOE.

Kollmann retired in 1992 after a career interrupted by raising four children. Three of them are teachers. She taught in Concord and Winton, and at Chenoweth, Franklin and Rivera schools. "I enjoy the social aspect of it," Kollmann said of the retirees group. She was president of the local division for two years.

The group planned a trip to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and a tour of UC Merced's environmental sustainability program and recently held the Jane Goul Memorial Card Party. Proceeds from that fund-raiser go to a scholarship fund for Merced College students planning a career in teaching.

Retired teachers also toured the Merced County Courthouse Museum, a poinsettia-growing warehouse in Hughson, the Mariposa Mining Museum and History Center as well as an orchid factory-nursery in Los Banos.

Luhring said RTA members log more than 60,000 volunteer hours a year. Some volunteer in the classroom, as museum docents or in hospitals. Members also went to Sacramento earlier this month for a legislative advocacy day.

Luhring said the main function of Cal-RTA is to protect pension benefits for members and support education. Group members also write letters to legislators and man telephone banks.

"We are desperately concerned about the future of education in California," Luhring said, "but we don't support political candidates."

RTA members remain interested in education, but they're not eager to go back to full-time work in the classroom. They also are concerned about today's trends in education.

"There is so much pressure put on teachers nowadays," Masterson said. "The fun and creative activities are kind of minimized. There is pressure to cover so much material. The curriculum has been intensified, and there's not a minute to spare."

Gipson said there's no more room for innovation or exploration in education.

"They have taken the joy out of teaching," Gipson said. "Many teachers are looking forward to retiring. There is too much structure and it's all drill, drill, drill. They (teachers) are burned out. There's no time to have any fun."

Luhring, who got her bachelor's degree in social science from the University of San Francisco and her teaching credential from California State University, Stanislaus, said there's no time for art or music and cultural courses are suffering.

Kollmann said music and art should be integrated into social science, but she doesn't see that happening anymore. There are no art teachers in middle school.

A former president of the group, Kollmann said that when retired teachers get together they talk about how they taught. "The exchange of ideas keeps you stimulated," Kollmann said. "I enjoy the social aspect of it."

Teachers and administrators often are at odds when they're working, Gipson said, but become friends after retirement. He added they realize they all share something in common. "I feel it's important to protect our rights as educators," he said.

Gipson teaches an after-school computer program. A former teacher at Sheehy Elementary School and Rivera Middle School, he received his bachelor's degree in political science from UC Santa Barbara and a master's degree in curriculum instruction from Chapman College. He also taught at CSU, Stanislaus, and Chapman. His son is a teacher.

Masterson said the local RTA group features a function every month. Its board meets the first Monday of the month.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or
CalRTA Pension Op Ed Sets Record Straight
The following OpEd was picked up in various publications throughout the state including the Orange County Register and the Oakland Tribune.

Today's Lesson ... The Facts About CalSTRS Pensions

During my 31 years as an educator I taught my students using facts – dates and figures that could be substantiated. Facts are what we should focus on now as we discuss pensions. Grandstanding and exaggerations have no place in a discussion about something as important as the financial health of our state and its citizens. And “one size” definitely does not fit all when describing the different systems. CalSTRS is different.

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) has been providing retirement security for more than 97 years, even through the Great Depression. Here are some facts about CalSTRS and educators’ retirements:

  • CalSTRS earned 8.2 percent over the past 20 years and 12.7 percent last year. The CalSTRS pension fund is not in immediate crisis. It has assets to pay benefits for at least the next 30 years.

  • As a percentage of payroll the state is paying less now (roughly 2 percent) than it did 14 years ago when the state paid 4.3 percent of payroll.

  • I paid for my CalSTRS retirement with 8 percent of my monthly paycheck. That is higher than private-industry workers pay into Social Security.

  • CalSTRS retirement benefits are based on age, years of service and final pay. The formula used is 2 percent of pay, not the higher percentages you often hear about.

  • Most CalSTRS retirees don’t receive their own nor their spouse’s earned Social Security benefits (they are penalized for being teachers via the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset).

  • Just as private-sector retirees rely on Social Security, teachers rely on their CalSTRS pension to remain self-sufficient.

  • Most CalSTRS retirees don’t receive any employer paid health care.

  • CalSTRS is already a hybrid retirement plan with a defined benefit formula for one type of compensation and a cash balance plan for other compensation that is similar to a 401(k). The system was created to avoid pension spiking.

  • CalSTRS has actually cut retirement benefits in the past year. Most of the CalSTRS benefits that were provided in 2000, at the peak of the dot com boom, were limited term benefits and have sunsetted. Those who earned the benefits prior to the sunset will receive them; however, no new retirees can earn those benefits. 

Opponents of public pensions have lumped all the pension systems together in their attacks, yet CalSTRS is very different in their formulas and benefits. Even the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility is quoted as saying, “Teachers have a more modest formula, and it has been fixed for a number of years now.” (North County Times, 1/10/11).

I am a proud member of the California Retired Teachers Association (CalRTA), which sponsored the Elder Full Funding Act that brought CalSTRS to full funding in 1998.  CalRTA has every expectation that Governor Brown will find a funding balance now that is fair to taxpayers and fair to workers, just as we have experienced in the past.

Retirement plan opponents believe that all public retirement systems are the same.  The facts don’t support that argument.  CalSTRS is different.

Polly Bacich
California Retired Teachers Association
Op Ed Fights Pension Criticisms
Teacher pensions are not a threat to state budget

Ralph R. Villani • Special to The Desert Sun •
August 19, 2010

Public employee pensions are under serious attack by many groups because of alleged present and future cost to the taxpaying public. The California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) is frequently mentioned as the system that will need increased public funds to continue to pay the pensions of retirees.

Critics suggest that this system should be curtailed because of the cost to taxpayers. Unfortunately, the critics lump all retirement systems in California together when making these criticisms.

In reality, there are major differences between the two systems. Retired teachers/administrators of California public schools are covered by the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS), while other state employees are under CalPERS. The structures of the two systems are similar, but the facts are that the pension for teachers and administrators are not now and never will be a unfair burden for taxpayers.

Here are the facts about CalSTRS. the pension system for teachers and administrators:

Teachers and administrators pay 8 percent of their annual salary into the system. That's about $2 billion in an average year. School districts give 8.25 percent or $2.2 billion a year.

The state of California makes two payments annually of 2.017 percent and 2.5 percent of total salaries or $1.2 billion a year. Normal total income is about $22 billion.

These funds pay for the basic retirement, not for health care and not for Social Security. There is no cost-of-living adjustment until a retired educator lives 17 years into retirement. Then one kicks in if you are still alive.

The total cost of teacher/administrator pensions is about $9 billion annually. Remember, $22 billion is collected from the teacher/administrator, the school district and the state. The excess income of about $13 billion is invested.

The facts are that our state collects taxes, spends too much and then borrows too much. CalSTRS collects money, spends less than it collects and invests instead of going into debt. CalSTRS is truly a financial model.

The state of California is not in any jeopardy from teachers' pensions. Indeed, the investment fund is an attractive nuisance to governors who try to steal money from it whenever they are in a budget crisis. The California Retired Teachers Association had to sue the state recently to get back $500,000 taken from CalSTRS.

The investment funds are $170 billion large in a good year. The economic drop from 2007 to 2009 hurt the fund by nearly $50 billion, but it will recover. And note, it did not rely on the state to pay any more than it does in any normal year. The fund is a fiscal assurance that retirement costs for California's educators will be taken care of by sound
investments, not by the taxpayer. All pension systems should be this way.

Ralph R. Villani of Palm Springs is a retired educator and member of the California Retired Teachers Association, board of directors. E-mail him at
WEP/GPO Hits Cover of the SF Chronicle
The unfair Social Security penalties that affect so many educators landed on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. The story, which ran January 27, 2010, included first hand accounts of how these penalties affect real people. Read the story below:

Movement tries to fix Social Security inequity

Carolyn Said, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Darleen Young always wanted to be a teacher, but the field was glutted when she graduated from college, so she became a social worker for Kaiser. But after she was widowed 11 years ago, the Albany resident switched to teaching, hoping to both fulfill her ambition and spend more time with her three children. Now a sixth-grade teacher at Hercules Middle School, Young loves her job.

Her midcareer move, however, places her among several hundred thousand Californians who will pay a financial price in retirement for working as a government employee.

In California and 14 other states where teachers do not participate in Social Security, second-career educators who previously held private-sector jobs where they paid into Social Security see some of that money evaporate in retirement because of a decades-old law. They can lose up to $381 a month of their own benefits - Social Security income that their payroll taxes should have guaranteed them.

In Young's case, her teacher's pension will reduce the amount of Social Security she receives from her previous career. The pension also will cut what she can receive from her late husband's Social Security benefits. Overall, she expects to lose several hundred dollars a month of retirement income - even though she and her husband both fully paid into the Social Security system.

From roofing to teaching

After a job injury ended his career as a roofer, Sam Frankel, now 60, went back to school and became a second-grade teacher, a job he's happily held for 17 years.

But he's far less happy about the financial consequences.

"My Social Security (from his previous career) is not a fortune to begin with, but it will be cut so drastically," said Frankel, who teaches at Berkeley's Arts Magnet School. "It's what I paid in; it should be mine. I'm not going to be rich, no way that will happen, but I don't want to be poor."

Such inequity has spurred a grassroots movement that has attracted powerful supporters. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is sponsoring legislation that would restore the employees' benefits, and President Obama has said he will sign it if it makes it to his desk. Previous attempts to change the law have foundered in Congress, but proponents hope the current climate is more worker-friendly.

"I definitely am going to have to work longer," said Young, 57. "Every year I think about, 'Should I stay in teaching, or should I go back to (a job covered by) the Social Security system?' It's just not fair. I went into teaching having no idea about this."

Moreover, in California and nationwide, other government workers who don't pay into Social Security - police officers, sheriff's deputies, firefighters, librarians, some postal workers - see their spousal and survivor's Social Security benefit slashed by an even larger amount or eliminated altogether. Spousal benefits give a lower-paid spouse half of their partner's Social Security benefit, while survivor's benefits allow a widow or widower to claim their late spouse's benefit if it is larger than their own.

Resolution 'long overdue'

"The bottom line is that we should respect, not penalize, our public service employees," Feinstein said in a speech last year introducing the Social Security Fairness Act. "It is long overdue that we resolve this inequity."

Gil Duran, a spokesman for Feinstein, noted that the bill has 30 co-sponsors, indicating considerable interest. A companion bill in the House sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman, D-North Hollywood (Los Angeles County), has 314 co-sponsors.

But repealing the provisions would carry a hefty price tag of about $80 billion to $100 billion over the next 10 years. Sweeping Social Security reform may be on the national agenda for this year - but it will have to focus on reining in costs.

Congress was trying to eliminate "double dipping" when it passed the relevant laws. But it didn't account for workers who previously had paid Social Security taxes. And it didn't consider the impact of drastic cuts to survivor's and spousal benefits for spouses who were stay-at-home parents for many years and then returned to work as teachers.

"The concept was that the combination of the government pension and (reduced) Social Security would be equal or better than Social Security," said David Walrath, legislative analyst with the California Retired Teachers Association in Sacramento. "But with government pensions, you don't generate significant livable benefits until after 25 or 30 years of work."

'Two inadequate pensions'

More commonly, second-career government workers might have a 20-year private-sector career and perhaps 15 years as a teacher. The net result, Walrath said: "You end up with two inadequate pensions."

John Shoven, director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and an expert on Social Security, said government workers benefit by not paying Social Security taxes, giving them that money during their working careers. Still he added, cutting their survivor's and spousal benefits seems unfair. "It makes no sense to treat someone who had a career worse than someone who didn't work outside the home; they should be treated the same," he said.

Bonnie Cediel of Berkeley was a homemaker and volunteer for about 20 years, then became a teacher for 16 years, just long enough to accrue a modest pension. "That was enough to wipe out my share of everything my husband had contributed to Social Security all the years we were married," she said.

Inequity in benefits

What's the issue? State and local government employees who previously worked in the private sector, where they paid into Social Security, lose up to $381 a month of their benefits in retirement. Government employees who don't pay into Social Security lose a chunk or all of survivor's and spousal benefits.

Why is this? Congress passed laws in 1977 and 1983 that reduced Social Security benefits for people with government pensions. The unintended effect was that government workers who had earlier careers in which they paid into Social Security were penalized in retirement. Government workers whose spouses paid into Social Security lost most or all of their benefits.

Who is affected? The impact is felt most heavily In California and 14 other states where teachers don't participate in Social Security. All states have government employees outside the Social Security system.

More information:,

E-mail Carolyn Said at

It's a CalSTRS Pension
The onslaught of negative media stories focused on public pensions fail to fairly differentiate the average, modest retirement most educators receive from the few lavish ones that exist. CalRTA is working to redirect the discussion around teachers’ pensions and in August 2009 we launched our “It’s a CalSTRS Pension” outreach efforts with Letters to the Editor and Opinion Pieces. Below are key points to this issue as well as clippings from items published throughout the state.

Facts defining this issue:

  • The average retired teacher paid into his/her retirement for more than 26 years and receives $2,700 per month in benefits.

  • Unlike corporate workers, teachers are required to contribute to their pensions; most paid 8 percent into the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) which is higher than the rate private-workers pay for Social Security.

  • In general, teachers aren’t eligible for Social Security so their CalSTRS pension is their only guaranteed income in retirement. Just as private-sector retirees rely on Social Security, retired teachers rely on CalSTRS.

  • Teachers don’t enter this professional to get rich. But they made contributions in good faith, were promised a pension in return and should be able to depend on this modest retirement income.


August 5, 2009
Old teacher still has class
The Record Searchlight - Redding, CA

August 9, 2009
Teachers help with pensions
Santa Maria Times - Santa Maria, CA

August 10, 2009
Teacher pensions
Press Democrat - Santa Rosa, CA

August 10, 2009
Dependable pension
The Tribune – San Luis Obispo, CA

August 12, 2009
Teacher pensions
Fremont Argus – Fremont, CA

August 17, 2009
Teachers earn their pension
The Stockton Record – Stockton, CA

August 19, 2009
Teacher pensions
The Desert Trail – Twentynine Palms, CA

August 21, 2009
Teachers and public pension myths
Grass Valley Union – Grass Valley, CA

August 22, 2009
Pensions are paid for, counted on
The Sacramento Bee – Sacramento, CA

August 22, 2009
The topic of public pensions
Big Education Ape – Blog

Retired Educators Celebrate Retired Teachers Week by Giving Back
Tight Economy Doesn't Stop CalRTA Members from Donating Time

In recognition of the thirteenth annual California Retired Teachers Week November 6-12, 2011, retired educators throughout the state are spotlighting exceptional volunteers within their ranks who have donated more than 4,000 hours of their time to community activities and are urging all Californians to find the time for volunteer service.

“The state is going through tough times, but that doesn’t mean we should stop giving back to our communities.  Hundreds of our members have tallied more than 4,000 hours in volunteer service—the equivalent of working fulltime for two years,” noted Joe Dion, president of the California Retired Teachers Association. “They can all tell you that the secret to volunteering is that you always get back more than you give.”

Even in these tough economic times, when many are struggling to make ends meet, retired teachers continue to serve as role models for volunteer service.  Since 1998, the California Retired Teachers Association has sponsored Retired Teachers Week as a way to not only spotlight our members’ own extensive volunteerism but to encourage others to do the same.

CalRTA’s annual tally of volunteer hours, reported by just 12.7 percent of its members, shows that members donated 2,340,666 hours valued at $49,996,625. In addition, more than $421,000 was provided in grants and scholarships throughout the state.

“We cared about our students and our communities while we worked as educators, and that caring doesn’t stop at retirement,” said Dion.

In addition to benefitting from their volunteerism, California also benefits from teachers' pensions. CalSTRS pensions pump billions into the state's economy. And given that retirees spend their income, they're a built-in stimulus plan for the state's economy.