Executive Directors Report, January 2018
As we begin 2018 WSSRA continues its mission dedicated to preserving and improving the benefits of educational retirees. At the top of the year’s to-do list is the restoration of the Plan 1 COLA for TRS and PERS retirees. That benefit was removed by the legislature in 2011, causing members to lose over 10% in their pension’s purchasing power since that time. Hopefully, with the resolution of the McCleary school funding court case, a do-pass recommendation for a modified COLA proposal from the Select Committee on Pension Policy (SCPP), and the Governor signaling his support of the SCPP plan in his supplementary budget request, a COLA restoration can become a reality in 2018. Yes, by the time of the annual convention Wenatchee (June 4 – 6) we hope to be enjoying a COLA increase.
In addition to the restoration of the Plan 1 COLA, the WSSRA Executive Board has listed 2018 legislative priorities as: (1) improving the Medicare subsidy from its current $150/month to a rate commensurate with the recent increases in Kaiser Permanente and Regence Uniform fees, (2) supporting Plan 2 and 3 pensions (including making the Plan 2 defined benefit model the standard choice for new school employees), and (3) closing the actuarial funding gap in the Plan 1 TRS and PERS systems.
Meanwhile, the Committees of WSSRA will also be hard at work as the year unfolds. The Association structure includes an Awards Committee, a Nominating and Review Committee, a Rules and Resolution Committee and a Scholarship Committee. These are revolving Committees with continuing responsibilities each year. The Health Services Committee, the Membership Committee, the Outreach Committee and the Retirement Committee are service groups which also have annual tasks which vary and are tailored to the special work identified by the groups each year. The Executive Board meets six times a year and has eight district representatives who join the officers and staff with the program work for the year. In addition to operating committees, WSSRA enjoys a partnership relationship with the WSR-Foundation (which upped their scholarship amounts to $2500 per recipient), and the WSR-PAC which will start interviewing candidates for 2018 legislative races just after the filing period closes in mid-May.
The history of WSSRA is a long one, dating back to its inception in 1947. It is one of the oldest school retiree organizations in the country and has one of the most robust programs in the nation. Legislative advocacy for school retirees is a fundamental priority and our Legislative Committee is large, dedicated and effective in representing our membership in all parts of the state. Our Association is special in the breadth of its scholarship program as well as the support for active employees through local mini-grant programs. Also, the philanthropy expressed by the 29 units across the state is remarkable through programs such as school supply drives, clothing and uniform support for needy children, holiday fundraisers to assure a good Christmas for disadvantaged kids, and food drives for the poor—all of which provide a positive impact in local communities. The official publication of WSSRA, The Journal, is a standout nationally. Finally, with a longstanding partnership with the Association Membership Benefit Advisors (AMBA), the list of member benefits is second to none in serving both active and retired members.
Technology improvements will be a top priority for the year, with a particular emphasis toward membership access though social media outlets such as Facebook. The legislature moves rapidly through bills as each annual session unfolds, and we want to make sure that our members remind legislators—in real time—of the needs to support a fair retirement for school employees. As always, membership will continue to be a top goal as we strive to grow beyond the 18,000-member level. Importantly, WSSRA serves school retirees as well as those actively employed. We are the only organization that welcomes as members and works for people from all backgrounds—teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, administrators, office professionals, food service employees, maintenance employees, transportation employees, nurses and anyone else who has worked for schools.
Yes, 2018 promises to be an important and perhaps a benchmark year for WSSRA. With the COLA issue at the forefront, and technology improvements ready to enhance membership services, we are poised to thrive. And by counting on the nearly 18,000 members in the state for help when needed, our goals can be achieved. We’ll see you at the annual convention in Wenatchee June 4 – 6!