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Social Studies Teacher Named to TN Retirement System Board

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; June 24, 2013:

(June 24, 2013, NASHVILLE) – Lt. Governor Ramsey (R-Blountville) today announced the appointment of social studies teacher Kevin Fielden of Kingsport to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) Board of Trustees.

“Kevin Fielden is an outstanding educator and a credit to our city school system in Kingsport,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “I’m confident Mr. Fielden’s fresh perspective will serve well the interests of his fellow teachers and the state of Tennessee.”

A graduate of East Tennessee State University, Kevin Fielden has taught social studies in Northeast Tennessee for twenty years. Fielden was one of twelve Tennessee teachers selected for the prestigious Atlantik-Brücke fellowship fostering closer ties between Germany and the United States. In 2009, Fielden was presented with the Presidential Scholar recognition award by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Fielden currently teaches at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport.

The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System Board of Trustees is responsible for the general administration and proper operation of TCRS overseeing a nearly $35 billion trust fund for state and local employee pensions. The 20-member Board consists of nine ex-officio members, nine representatives of the active TCRS membership, and two representatives for retirees.

Employee representation consists of three teachers, one from each grand division of the state, two state employees from departments other than those represented by ex-officio members, one public safety officer and three representatives of local governments. Retiree representation includes a retired teacher and a retired state employee.

The three teachers are appointed for three-year terms; the teacher representatives of the eastern and western grand divisions are appointed by the Speaker of the Senate, and the teacher representative of the middle grand division is appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Local Pensions at Forefront for State Leaders

Some top Tennessee officials say they don’t expect the Legislature to address state employee pension reform at all this year — although retirement plans for some 483 local government groups might get a look.

“There will probably be some bills filed this year, everybody sort of getting on that bandwagon, like, ‘Oh, hey, we just discovered, you know there’s a pension issue,’” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. “There’s long been a pension issue. But it takes studied work, and it’s technical stuff.”

Lawmakers will be ready to tackle pensions for state employees, including teachers and workers in higher education next year, he told TNReport. That’s just four years before about 16 percent of state workers will qualify for retirement, according to state officials.

Tennessee has fared well compared to other states in terms of funding its pension system — an issue that has captured recent national attention. A recent Pew report found that the state’s pension system was 90 percent funded in the last two fiscal years, well above a widely used 80 percent threshold to measure the soundness of pension plans. By contrast, the plan in Illinois was funded at 51 percent in 2009, a stark reminder that many states have failed to set aside enough money to cover their promised pension payments.

Norris said he is unsure what the future holds for revamping the state’s retirement system but said lawmakers should give serious thought to adopting a program that mirrors a 401(k) matching system, much like what is used in the private sector.

For now, the plan is to target future municipal employees because local governments are “under greater cost pressures than the state is,” Treasurer David Lillard told lawmakers at the Council on Pensions and Insurance meeting Monday.

He is proposing offering those cities, counties, and school districts a variety of adjustments such as changing the retirement age, capping cost-of-living adjustments, capping maximum benefits or pairing supplemental deferred compensation plans with reduced pension benefits. Any changes need to be OK’d by the Legislature and the governor.

His plan would not affect state employees, K-12 teachers, higher education workers or current retirees, he said.

The state runs the Consolidated Retirement System, which handles pensions for those workers as well as the plans issued by some cities and towns.