Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Year 2001 And Texas Retired Teachers

    September 11thThe September 11th Terrorist Attacks (Days That Changed the World) is another day that will “live in infamy“. As a matter of fact, on a macro level the whole year will probably live in infamy, given the fact that it lead to war. However, this blog is concerned with the more micro level and two acts of the Texas  legislature that were passed in 2001. The two acts concerned :
 Working after retirement
Cost of living adjustment

                                                    Working After Retirement

        Before 2001 there were no restrictions about working after retirement; a retiree could continue working after retiring  in a public educational establishment as much as he/she desired. However by 2001 there was much concern that many teachers and administrators were working out agreements with their districts that allowed them to retire, then be rehired at their former job, be compensated as they had always been  and also draw their TRS annuity The Financial Insider's Annuity Guide: Understanding Annuities And Your Financial Portfolio. Because of fear that the TRS  fund would be severely damaged by this practice, the legislature passed a law that limited retirees in the amount of time they could work in public schools and universities . Retirees could work only 50% of what would be considered full time. There was no limit on working in private schools. If I remember right TRTA supported this 2001 law because they were  quite appropriately concerned about the viability of the  TRS fund .

           However I believe that some reforms of the 2001 legislation would be in the best interest of retirees. Please indulge me a couple of personal examples of my experience with the legislation.

            When I retired from the public schools in 2005, I continued with my part time job teaching  classes in a community college Because the community colleges consider five classes as full time I was allowed to teach only two classes, since obviously I could not teach 2.5 classes. In addition since the community colleges pay by course I was limited, in my case, to a  salary of $3,400 per semester or at most $10,200 a year ; but someone hired by a public school for one half day could earn half of a full time teacher’s pay , let’s say $20,000.

             A second surprise I received that first year was in the Summer when I taught my usual schedule, two classes in the first semester but none in the second semester. In July I received a  miserable missive in the mail(miserable for me anyway) which informed me that I would have to return my annuity to TRS for the month of June since I had exceeded the amount I was allowed to work. It seems that  2  classes per semester  is considered full  time in the Summer, so I was in violation. Notice that the salary I received for the Summer was exactly the same I would have received had I taught one class per semester, the allowable amount. I called TRS and pleaded ignorant,(not hard in my case) and fortunately for me  was able  to speak with a very nice lady in TRS who told me I would be forgiven this time but not a second time. I thanked her profusely and made sure there was no “second time”. I know another retiree who was asked to return their annuity because they taught two college classes and did some substituting. The 2001 law allows unlimited substituting but  if one reaches the 50 % rule , no substituting is allowed.

    This 2001 work after retirement law is confusing enough that some colleges have a full time staff member assigned to assuring no one breaks the rule . I even had a staffer at TRS  tell me over the phone that they wished the law would be repealed because of the amount of confusion from retirees and even occasionally on the part of TRS staff themselves.  I believe that ,though the 2001 law had some merit, that  reforms are needed to make this law conform to the best interests of  retirees today. My suggested reforms are:

     1. Simply require that a retiree cannot work full time for one year after retirement. This rule is already in effect for principals and assistant principals and should be a sensible solution for all.

     2. Require that any retiree who returns to work will pay into the TRS fund but cannot expect any larger annuity from the fund than the annuity earned at the time of retirement. This should actually strengthen the fund and give the retiree the option of whether they wish to work full time. I believe this law especially needs reform given the cost of living problem for retirees.How to Love Your Retirement: Advice from Hundreds of Retirees (Hundreds of Heads Survival Guides)

                                                      The Last COLA

           For some inexplicable reason whenever I hear or write the word cola, my mind snaps back to my childhood and the drink RC Cola. (Anyone remember those? Are they still around?) Oh well, forgive me for that aside and back to the COLA that is the topic of this blog. Another act of the legislature in 2001 was the granting of a cost of living adjustment  to retired teachers. This has turned out to be the last cost of living adjustment. That means for the last ten years when inflation has averaged 3 % a year that Texas retired teachers have lost something like 20 % of their spending power More explicitly a retiree who receives $40,000 at retirement in 2001 would now have the equivalent annuity of $32,000. That is the reason that the staff of Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) and many members on the local level have worked so hard to get the Texas legislature to grant a  permanent cost of living adjustment.  I think

          Will they succeed in getting this cost of living adjustment  at the next legislative session. Let us hope so; but I fear not. The reason I fear not is that a looming battle is near on funding public pensions throughout the country with states like Colorado having passed legislation to reduce the amount of COLA going to retired teachers and state personnel. . In addition the Texas Legislature is under pressure from many fronts to spend more money on highways, prisons welfare, schools etc; and to keep from raising taxes.

           I know that scepticism toward our legislators is a Texas tradition Stand Proud (Texas Tradition Series No 13) ( No man’s life or property is safe as long as the legislature is in session)  but I think as Texas citizens we have to feel some sympathy for the dilemmas they face. After all we are, in addition to being retired Texas teachers ,also taxpayers, and use services such as driving on the highways. So can we get our Cola  and still help the state keep spending under control. I would like to make a proposal that is different than the usual approach but I think might  give us at least part of what we want. Remember this is only a proposal, more in the form of a thought experiment:

 My proposal. Rather than ask for a full cost of living proposal for all retirees, why not phase in the COLA. Those who retire before 65 would not receive a cost of living proposal. The rationale for this is that we are healthier than ever and most of us can continue to work, at least part time, if needed. From 65-70 there would be a COLA of 1.5 %. After the age of 70 there would be a full cost of living adjustment. My reason is that after the age of 70 health concerns might keep many from working. This proposal has two main advantages:

     1. It gives us, at least many of us, an immediate cost of living adjustment and would assure the rest of us that there would be one later.

     2. The legislature might be willing to accept this proposal as less expensive than the full cost of living  proposal usually suggested.

    Sorry for the length of this post but these are key issues for retired teachers and  those who will be retiring. Now I would dearly love your comments;

       Were you aware of the 2001 law on work after retirement and do you think changes are needed?

        Do you think my proposals for a cost of living are wise or just half witted. Do you have any suggestions?

                                    Some further comments of my own

 1. Please no political comments
 2. For those who are not teacher retirees, there will be more general blogs on retirement soon. Thanks to you all for your patience
3. The place for your comments is below. Thanks a million.            

Saturday, July 3, 2010

IN Pursuit Of Happiness

All men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life liberty and the pursuit of happinessHappiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill. July fourth is a propitious time to think about those rights Mr. Jefferson Thomas Jefferson - A Film by Ken Burnsclaimed on that July 4th 1776. Most of us have a pretty good idea of the meaning of life and liberty, but what about happiness; how do you pursue  happiness  and would we recognize the often elusive emotion if we caught it?

                                          Wealth and Happiness

Will money make you happy. A comedian once joked that money may not bring you happiness but it will buy anything that what will bring you happiness. A good line, but can money really buy you happiness and if so how much of  it do you need? Aristotle gave an answer many years ago that has held up quite well with time: Enough wealth is needed to provide for the needs of life but anything beyond that brings only limited satisfaction  Modern happiness surveys have confirmed Aristotle’s belief. Wealth that  allows an individual and family to escape poverty certainly can add to happiness, but beyond that, money contributes little to happiness. But is this true, that we only need enough wealth to provides for our  basic needs, such as food shelter and clothing. What if I’m happy with an  1800 square foot house but you want a 3000 square foot house? Also has modern  technology and advertising changed what we need to be happy. Could we be happy without our computers, colored televisions and mobile phones? I’m feeling unhappy just writing about it. LOL

                                           Health And Happiness

What role does good health Omron HJ-720ITC Pocket Pedometer with Advanced Omron Health Management Software play in our pursuit of happiness ?  Common sense tells us that we are happier when we are healthy. Can someone who suffers from chronic pain, for example, be happy  and if not does that again bring fourth the question of money and happiness; after all, wouldn’t one need enough money to buy the medication to manage the pain?  The good news is, that counter intuitive though it may be, studies have concluded that people undergoing even the most difficult health challenges such as dialysis and cancer can continue to be happy. Possibly the reason good health doesn’t add more to our happiness is we don’t realize what a blessing good health is till we lose it..

                                             Attitude And Happiness

 If  wealth and happiness don’t guarantee happiness, What is the key to pursuing happiness? More and more evidence is accumulating from the fields of cognitive science and neuroscience that our attitude and the way we think about life’s occurrences may play a bigger role than any other happiness factor. These factors sound an awful lot like what we were taught as children: Be  grateful for what we have, help others, look for the positive, and work to maintain our relationships with family and friends. The good news is that studies shave shown that as we age , our skills at these  simple  but vital attitudes improves, and thus  the chance for happiness actually grows . So  hopefully I haven't rambled so much I've made you unhappy! I would love to hear your comments on:

Does wealth bring happiness and if so, how much wealth do we need?

Can we be happy even in bad health?

Does happiness really matter anyway?

Looking forward to your comments below



Monday, June 28, 2010

Pension Funds And Texas Retired Teachers

  The website for Texas Retired Teachers Association had some good news last week.  The TRS fund has increased by $30 billion dollars to $96.6 billion. In 2008 the fund had been down to only $67 billion ,after the financial meltdown of  2008. This represented a 35 % increase. For those of you who have not seen the report, the TRTA had several conclusions including :

                        These investment gains are among the best in the country

                        The TRS fund may be in a stronger fund than just about any other fund in the country

                        The gains have still not made the pension fund actuarially sound

                        The Texas Legislature must find a way to make the system more actuarially sound.

                                Some Not So Good News

   The TRTA site also reported that the New York Times was reporting that the TRS fund had 14 million shares invested in BP. Of course as most of you are probably well aware these are not exactly happy times for BP and their stock shares have taken a corresponding hit. The good news within the bad news was that supposedly this represented only one tenth of one percent of the TRS  fund. One more reason to hope the oil leak in the Gulf is soon just a distant memory.

                                Other State Pension Funds

       A  USA Today  article reports that, according to a study By the Manhattan Institute the pension funds of the 50 states are underfunded by $950 billion.  The report says the average state teacher funds are funded only at about 54 %.  More good news;TRS is doing much better than the average. Still, you may be sure that these funding concerns will be used by those who are opposed to any cost of living adjustment. Another interesting ( or maybe disturbing) part of the USA  article was that the study proposed converting state pension funds from a defined benefits plan as now constituted, that is pensions are based on number of years of service and salary   and member the contributions are invested by a state pension fund, to a defined contribution system, much like 403 B’s in which each teacher would be responsible for investing their own money and their retirement would be based on the outcome of their investments. . The Texas Retired Teachers Association has been vehemently opposed to changing to a defined contribution  system .

So DEAR HEARTS AND GENTLE  I would be “pleased as punch” if you would leave your always thoughtful comments.

 Are you worried about TRS investments or do you have trust?

What do you think of the BP investments?

Do you think moving to a defined contribution system from our current system would be wise?

 I look forward to your comments.  

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Numbers

             One of my favorite Americans ,Benjamin Franklin, stressed the bountiful benefits of being  healthy, wealthy and wise. I think most of us would agree that remaining healthy is a goal we desire for ourselves and those we love ,whatever their stage in life.  Certainly most of us who are retired know that keeping up our health is a key factor to maintaining a happy and productive retirement. There are three  numbers that we absolutely need to know to maintain our health. Those three numbers are :

Blood Pressure


Blood Sugar

                      First a caveat: I am not nor have I ever been a doctor. Again I was  just a ‘little ole history teacher“. But I’ve done a lot of research and this is the result of that research into the “numbers”

                                                High Blood Pressure

                   The chances of developing high blood pressure increase with age and estimates are that over half of all Americans over 65 have high blood pressure! So what can you do about it? Well, you can’t do much if you don’t know you have it, so get that physical you’ve been putting off. What are the numbers? Well, blood pressure is given in two numbers. The upper number is called systolic and the lower number is diastolic. The top number is measured when our heart  is pumping  life giving nutrients to our beautiful bodies and the second number is when our heart is taking a well deserved  rest. According to the American Heart Association your heart is said to be normal when the number is below 120, pre high blood pressure  between 120 and 139 and  when above 139  you have high blood pressure. Because our blood pressure varies, the pressure needs to be  taken more than once to reach a definite conclusion.


               And what “Great Caesar’s Ghost” is cholesterol? According to our friends  at the American Heart Association, it is a fat waxy substance (yuck) that is naturally found in our body and is even helpful, but the problem arises when our diet causes us to have too much of this good thing. To much  cholesterol can lead to plaque blocking the blood flow to our brains and heart and result in heart attacks or strokes. So what are the desirable numbers? Total cholesterol numbers below 200 are considered desirable, those between 200 and 239 are  considered borderline and those above 240 are considered high. However as in high blood pressure there are two numbers we need to know: HDL and LDL. Low density or LDL is the bad guy that causes the plaque mentioned earlier. An LDL total should be below 100 to be really optimal but when the number gets above 160 your LDL needs attention High density or HDL proteins are the “good guys”. you want this number to be high. Because HDL helps remove the bad LDL. An HDL number above 40 for men and above 50 for women is thought to provide some protection against heart disease and stroke

                                 blood sugar

                     The third number we need to be aware of is blood sugar. The blood sugar level you need to know is actually one type of sugar called glucose. The body needs glucose for energy, but once again too much of a good thing can lead to something bad like type 2 diabetes, as well as damage kidneys, eyes and the heart. Doctors will usually suggest you fast before the blood sugar test ( just use this as an excuse to have a big breakfast after the test) to increase the accuracy of the test. Normal blood sugar measurements are considered to be less than 100, pre-diabetes between 100-125 and diabetes is diagnosed  when the number gets above 126.

                                So What Now

                     Knowing and managing these numbers can play an essential role in having a happy energetic and productive retirement. You say you don’t know your numbers; then what are you sitting there for ,get up and make that doctor’s appointment.

Bad news department: The chances of  developing bad numbers on all three go up with age

Good news department: these numbers can be managed with medication, if necessary, but often with just a change of lifestyle and the same changes can lead to better numbers for all three:  those lifestyle changes are a healthy diet , exercise for 20-30 minutes four or five  times a week, don’t smoke, keep stress under control and keep up those relationships with friends and families.

Now dear hearts and gentle people I would love to have your comments  below on:

1. Do you have a good story about how you and/or someone you know has turned bad numbers into good numbers.

2. What steps do you take to keep those numbers under control.

Thanks for reading

Friday, June 25, 2010

Are You In The Retirement Box?

                             What in the “heck” do you mean by the “retirement box”  Well I actually took that term from the renowned career counselor, Richard Bolles What Color Is Your Parachute? 2010: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Mr. Bolles  says that we usually allow ourselves to be placed in three boxes : the education box, the work box and the retirement box.

                                        The education box

 We usually find ourselves locked firmly in the education box until the age of about six.( even longer for today’s pre-kinder kids!). “Up in the morning and off to school, the teacher is teaching the golden rule. O.K. I couldn’t escape the “nostalgia box”. Does anyone remember that song? All right back to the education box. Of course, during our high school and college years we might escape into the work box temporarily, but  usually we are expected to go  to school and study. When we finish our schooling, whenever that might be , then “poof” out of the education box and jump right into the work box.

                                             The Work Box

Welcome to the wonderful world of work. Most of us can remember that first pay check, mine was $3,900 in 1968, and then we settle into our work box and forget the education box we now have managed to escape. Though many of us worked in jobs such as teaching, that required us to occasionally update our education, we did so only because this was a requirement to remain in the  work box and not because we chose the education for the pure joy of learning. After about 30.-40 years ( Wow that seems like a long time when  put in that way) we decide to retire, so we submit a letter and “ lo and behold” the education box opens and we step into the retirement box.

                                              The Retirement Box

According to Richard Boilles, this third box was supposed to be  spent in leisure, which traditionally might mean just sitting on one’s front porch until one died. No thought was expected to be given to returning, even temporaraily to those other two boxes we  escaped from, the education and work boxes.

                                               Breaking free of all the boxes

Today we have a more promising paradigm . Instead of one box for each stage of life more and more of us are mixing education, work and leisure at each stage of our lives. Here ,dear hearts and gentle people, is what I would love to hear your comments on:

1. If you’re in the retirement stage, do you escape the  retirement box by engaging in work and/or  education. Keep in mind, “work” could be something you volunteer to do. Of course there is nothing wrong with just enjoying your leisure!

2. If your in the work box, how do you escape ,at least occasionally, into the world of leisure and  education.

Look forward to your comments below.        

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Retired Texas Teacher Blog-A Welcome

   Thanks for landing on my blog. Like the airlines say I know you could have chosen a lot of other blogs. O.K. enough of these airline analogies. What is this blog all about?

  Well the name tells a lot. This is my blog, but I certainly can't have a blog without you. So this is really our Texas retired teacher blog. I don't think Blogger would mind if we change this ; just between us.

    Second this is about retired teachers in the state of Texas, so we'll look at some issues that effect Texas retired teachers, like the cost of living adjustment. ( This retired teacher blog, of course, includes retired administrators. Your input is much valued.) We'll also just discuss some issues that effect  retirees in general such as maintaining our health, traveling, hobbies, and the good and bad of retirement. Of course I also hope we'll have some visitors who are just thinking about retirement or maybe only dreaming about it. After all, all of us retirees were once just dreaming and thinking about retirement.

    Third, I can't help adding a little nostalgia topic now and then. Elvis Ike and Marylin may even make an occasional appearance. I will tell you that my next two topics will be:

                                  The Retirement Box

                                  Those All Important Health numbers

       I'm told that all first blogs should be mercifully short, so, dear hearts and gentle people, ( Anyone remember that song?) I'll close for now. Please comment below and especially share ideas to make this post an enlightening and enjoyable experience for us all.