As he examined the taxpayer-funded pension crisis that is driving Pennsylvania’s public school budgets through the roof, state Rep. Fred Keller was shocked to learn how far teacher salaries and benefits have outpaced the rate of inflation since 2000.
In the past 13 years, Valley districts have raised salaries between $4.5 million and $17.1 million above the inflation rate, according to figures compiled by Keller and his staff.
“I was surprised by the magnitude,” Keller said. “I don’t say this to place blame or criticize anyone who teaches. Goodness gracious, who’s going to refuse a raise?”
But the taxpayers responsible for paying the salaries are overburdened and there’s no end in sight as pension costs continue to soar, he said.
“Property owners pay those salaries and those salaries drive pensions,” said Keller, who represents the 85th Legislative District where the average annual salary is $40,000. “People are being taxed out of their homes.”
Half of 600G collecting
The Public School Employees’ Retirement System has more than 600,000 members and about half are active workers. The system is underfunded by $47 million.
Employees hired before July 1, 2011, receive a pension that equals 2½ percent of their salary times years of service. That means a school employee who earns $65,000 and retires after 30 years will collect $48,750 a year.
As he dug into the underlying factors that drove the pension crisis, including the economic downturn and the Legislature’s own actions increasing benefits and reducing employer contributions, Keller and his staff began examining teacher salaries.
The results prompted him to introduce a bill that would let the public see the terms of proposed school contracts with unions and educators — including the estimated cost of the deal — two days before they are approved.
The Pennsylvania Public School Code of 1949 doesn’t require taxpayers be notified even though they’re footing the bill, Keller said.