As a retired public school educator with more than 31 years devoted to serving thousands of Arizona’s students and their families, I am concerned that the public has been given some misinformation about public pensions. Since this is a personal issue for me (and tens of thousands of other retired educators), here are some facts about my pension that they need to know.
Throughout my working career in public schools, I paid into my state retirement, the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS), which was matched with contributions from my employer, the school district. During those years, I accepted lower pay than I could have gotten in the private sector because I loved my profession and was passionate about helping students achieve their full potential. Plus, I also knew that I would have a secure retirement that was guaranteed to me through a “defined benefit” pension system. That was promised as my reward for devoting my life to public service.
Recent news articles have berated my type of pension program and touted the supposed benefits of a 401K type retirement. However, numerous studies have proven that the defined benefit type of pension is far superior to a 401K type pension, which is subject to an unstable stock market and provides no guarantees to the retiree. Not only does my pension guarantee that I can’t outlive my benefit, but it also guarantees that I will continue to be part of a group of retirees who provide a positive impact on Arizona’s economy. Moreover, at a time when public education is so underfunded that districts can’t provide increases in salaries for devoted teachers, a guaranteed retirement benefit is an important incentive keeping those teachers in the profession.
Although my monthly retirement check is a modest amount, I know that I can count on receiving it for the rest of my life, and never be fearful of outliving it, because MY pension system is solidly funded. As a woman, I don’t have to fear spending my later years in poverty, or becoming dependent on public assistance. I am confident that I will remain a contributing member of the community for the rest of my life, adding to the economy instead of being a burden to taxpayers.
-Linda Somo is the retired past president of the Arizona Education Association.