Teachers union wants most PSERS administrators to quit board
Two months after the start of a federal investigation into the $ 64 billion Pennsylvania Public School Pension Fund, leaders of the state’s major city teachers’ union are losing patience.
“Resign immediately,” Arthur Steinberg, president of the American Federation of Teachers in Pennsylvania, urged most of the PSERS board members last week. His union includes 36,000 teachers and other staff in public schools in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and several small communities.
Considering the problems already recognized by the fund and with “the little information currently available to the public, it is difficult, if not impossible, to have any semblance of confidence in the board of directors or the staff of the PSERS to correct the course, ”said Steinberg.
His letter noted how the system’s withdrawal of an exaggerated earnings report triggered higher mandatory deductions from active teachers’ salaries to compensate for poor investment results. The fund’s actions sparked a federal criminal investigation and an internal investigation.
The union has sent its call for resignation to Governor Tom Wolf and state lawmakers, who together appoint nearly half of the 15 board members.
Steinberg limited the call to the dozen or so board members from January, shortly after the bad investment numbers were approved. Three trustees who joined the board this year – State Senator Katie Muth (D., Montgomery), newly elected state treasurer Stacy Garrity and Joe Torsella, the former treasurer – have been kicked out.
The demand also amounted to a reprimand to the state’s largest teachers’ union, the largest Pennsylvania State Education Association. Five board members that AFT would expel belong to the 168,000-member PSEA. The board chair is PSEA member Christopher Santa Maria, former chair of the Lower Merion teachers’ bargaining unit, who teaches social studies at Harriton High School.
As part of the complex selection process for the PSERS Board of Directors, the five members who belong to the PSEA were elected to three-year terms in a vote open only to current or former public school employees. . Three of the seats are elected by active teachers, one by non-teaching school staff and one by retirees.
When asked about the rival union’s demand for its directors to step down, the public education association said it was too early to replace anyone.
“PSEA is disappointed with the process at PSERS which led to the miscalculation,” said union spokesman Chris Lilienthal. Still, he added, “We think it’s wise to wait until PSERS and the FBI have finished their work before deciding what to do next.”
In addition to schools in large cities, AFT also represents certain groups of public school workers in several suburban districts, including Coatesville, Neshaminy-Langhorne, Pottstown and Southeast Delco.
State law requires public school educators hired after 2011 to contribute more to the pension system if the fund fails periodic benchmarks that measure financial performance. The PSERS board announced in December that it had passed the most recent test, sparing teachers and others any increases in their payments. But he turned the tide in April, saying his previous calculations were wrong and the real results required higher payouts.
As The Inquirer previously reported, federal subpoenas issued to the agency and senior executives in March called for documents related to investment calculations, as well as documents on the agency’s land purchases at Harrisburg.