Baker, Witt and Longbine at luncheon

USD 475 held a legislative luncheon at the C.L. Hoover Opera House Thursday, to discuss matters pertaining to the schools with legislators. Seated l-r are Rep. Dave Baker (R-Council Grove), Superintendent Corbin Witt, and Sen. Jeff Longbine (R-Emporia).

Several senators and representatives attended the legislative luncheon at the C.L. Hoover Opera House Thursday, where they discussed matters such as school funding and KPERS.

Sen. Jeff Longbine (R-Emporia) addressed issues with KPERS. 

“We’re still trying to run a pension program that’s based on contributions that were put in that pay a lifetime benefit,” he said.

Because life expectancy has gone up, Longbine said, an unexpected strain has been created on the retirement program. He also cited issues with people working after retirement — drawing both a paycheck and retirement benefits at the same time.

Among educators, the average age for a first retirement is a little under 54. Retirees draw pensions from retirement until death.

He suggested finding a way to push the average retirement age up, to keep KPERS sustainable. 

Retirement benefits increase the longer an educator stays in their job, but incentives could be increased.

Longbine suggested greater incentives for late retirement would put more burden on KPERS.

“I don’t know what the best answer is, but we’ve got to do something,” Longbine said.

Meanwhile, there is still a teacher shortage. KPERS regulations don’t allow retired teachers to fill positions within the district. Unified School District 475 would like to see exceptions made for positions it would otherwise have trouble filling.

The district also takes issue with the way KPERS is being funded. Teachers’ salaries in Kansas don’t compare to those elsewhere. This does nothing to encourage educators to stay in the state and consequently keep feeding into the system. 

USD 475 feels the system could be made more sustainable by keeping employees in the system for longer.

In addition, the new KPERS requirements have made it so districts need to hire more employees simply to manage all the paperwork. This increases costs.

Annual payments are coming to $5 million for the state. In 2015, the state bonded $1 billion to shore up KPERS.

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