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As I sit down to write this article for the REAM News, I am grateful for a wonderful summer. It seems that now that I have been retired for 19 years, the summers are more enjoyable than ever. During my 32 years of teaching, it seemed that summers just flew by. I’m sure most of you have also felt this way. It seemed that I never really got to celebrate Memorial Day or Labor Day because I would be at school either finishing up the last school year or getting ready for the next one. Now these holidays are much more enjoyable and relaxing. Hopefully, you will contact your area’s newly retired educators and ask them to consider joining REAM.

As most of you know, I am also President of the Carlton County Retired Educators and have been for over 15 years. One of the most important things we do is volunteer for four days in August at the Carlton County Fair, welcoming folks to the little one room school building on the fair grounds. We spend 2-hour shifts in the building meeting the folks who enter the building. So many of them say they remember their parents or grandparents talking about these one-room schools that dotted the countryside in Minnesota. We still have the rows of old school desks that are attached together on wooden boards. The globe is hung from the ceiling and the class schedule is posted on the black board. We even have slates and chalk for the kids to try out. I tell them that these were the iPads of the past. Some kids even say they wish they could go to a school like this, now.

But, enough of reminiscing. We are looking ahead to the fall season and our Annual REAM Conference in Granite Falls on September 30- October 1. I always look forward to this special gathering as it is a time of planning, learning, renewing friendships, and making new ones. Encourage your local members to join us. They will have a good time.

By now you should be renewing your REAM membership. Please encourage other retired educators to join REAM. Remember our goal is to protect the Defined Benefit Pension of Minnesota public school employees. To do this, we monitor the actions of, and provide information to, the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA), the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR), the Minnesota House/Senate and the Governor, in an effort to represent those that have made a career choice of public service. By joining REAM, your support will help our experienced team make contact for you, speak on your behalf, and keep you informed about pension information.

When REAM members advocate, and at times testify, legislators frequently ask, “How many people do you represent?” The answer to that question could affect how much interest they have. Think for a moment. . .if we would be able to answer, “Over 80,000 from nearly every city and town across the state,” how very impressive that reply would be. Numbers do count in the political arena. Make sure that your voice is included and strongly heard.

In closing, I have heard from some of you by mail or email and I really appreciate these letters, comments and messages.

Two elderly ladies had been friends since their 30’s. Now in their 80’s, they still got together a couple of times a week to play cards. One day they were playing gin rummy and one of them said, “You know, we’ve been friends from many years and, please don’t get mad, but for the life of me, I can’t remember you name. Please tell me what it is.” Her friend glared at her. She continued to glare and stare at her for at least three minutes. Finally, she said, “How soon do you need to know?”

Let’s hope that isn’t the case as we gather with our friends for the REAM Conference to be held at The Prairie’s Edge Casino Resort, Granite Falls on September 30th and October 1st, 2019. All registrations should be submitted soon so we can make final arrangements for the conference. If you have never attended this conference or haven’t attended in the last few years, please consider joining us, as the more members we can get involved the better our chances are of keeping our pension fund solvent.

Here’s an important TRA (Teacher’s Retirement Association) Update: The TRA has served teachers for over 100 years for over five generations of teachers. There are 194,000 members in TRA. There are 82,000 active teachers and 65,000 retired educators. TRA has $22 billion in assets, $1.8 billion in annual payments that benefits the state’s economy, supports 41,839 jobs, and generates $6.3 billion in economic activity and $1.4 billion in tax revenue.

Here are some Fun Facts concerning retired teachers as of January 1, 2018. The oldest annuitant is 113 years old. The number of annuitants age 100 or older is 124. The longest an annuitant has received benefits is 52 years. The projected average number of years a member who retired in 2018 will receive benefits in 27 years.

The average lifetime benefits paid to a member who retired in 2018 will be $712,800 assuming a monthly benefit of $2,175 with no increases.

So, as you can see TRA and REAM are looking out for our active and retired educators! Also note, that our retired members are living longer, an average of 2 years longer than the average population. People born in Hawaii, Minnesota and Connecticut have the longest average life expectancies in the USA. Minnesota’s average is 81.1 years.

The Pension Bill passed unanimously in 2018 and was funded and supported by all stakeholder groups. Now that this bill has passed, the fund is projected to be 105% funded by 2048.

Public pensions are good for the state and employers. Pensions help recruit and retain public workers. They generate economic activity and tax revenue. Keeping the pension system stable is important to preserving the traditional Defined Benefit Plan and avoids what has happened in other states.

REAM has also worked hand in hand with AARP in passing the bi-partisan bill to have Assisted Living Facilities licensed by the state of Minnesota, which insures peace of mind for seniors as they are safeguarded against elder abuse and neglect.

I recently read the following paragraph and thought it was worthy of including in this REAM News article:

“No issue in America today better illustrates the divergent interests of working Americans and the one per cent than pension reform. Substantial evidence shows that America’s favored retirement vehicle—the 401(k), recently renounced by its own inventors—is grossly inadequate and will leave tens of millions of Americans with insufficient retirement assets. And yet, states and cities are busy converting traditional pensions into these failing 401(k)s or equivalents, to the great benefit of money managers and the finance class.”

With this paragraph in mind, we need to be vigilant in keeping our Defined Benefit Retirement Plan for all of our retired Minnesota Educators. Nevertheless, almost everywhere we look, pensions are under attack. This relentless, well-funded attack has taken every form of political advocacy available. In the past, 49 states have reformed pensions to make them more sustainable by increasing employee contributions and reducing benefits. We can be grateful that our state legislature passed our recent retirement plan unanimously. This shows that our governing officials are really looking out for the future of Minnesota Educators.

Also, I recently attended the North Central Retired Educators Meeting in Grand Rapids. They have a very active group and can be commended for all their efforts in promoting REAM in their area. If you would like to have me attend your local Retired Educators meeting, just let me know and I will see what I can do to visit your group.

Finally, have a great spring, contact our newly retired educators and ask them to consider joining REAM, think of someone to nominate for the REAM Educator Award, and plan to attend the REAM Conference in Granite Falls on Monday and Tuesday, September 30 and October 1. Hope to see you there!

With the recent passage of the Minnesota SF 2620 pension bill, our REAM Legislative Committee has been busy introducing themselves to the Legislators that have recently resumed their duties at the Minnesota State Capital. There are many new legislators along with those that have held their seats, and we want them to know about REAM and how our retired educators impact the economy of Minnesota. We want to remind our legislators that there are hundreds of thousands of reasons to feel good about their “yes” vote on this bill. They are your family members, neighbors, and Minnesotans throughout the state depending on you to take care of the Defined Benefit Pension systems. All communities benefit from the stable income earned, taxed, and spent by retirees.

Those currently serving on the REAM Legislative Committee are Tim Moynihan, John Fisher, Henry Carbone, and Lonnie Duberstein. They have presented each legislator with a letter signed by me giving a brief description of our Association. We have over 9,000 members. REAM works hard to promote the protection of our pensions and helps to serve our members well. The economic impact of retired educators adds millions of dollars to the state and local economies. Just in my county, Carlton County, there are a combined 1,340 retired PERA, MSRS, or TRA members and most, if not all of them, spend a great deal of their retirement income in the area. Not only do they contribute financially to their local communities and state, many of them spend countless hours as volunteers in their hometown communities. They coach little league teams, read to students, deliver Meals on Wheels, teach first aide classes, participate in many church activities, or serve on county boards, and more. I’m sure you can name many in your community who are active members of your area.

And with this in mind, I received a wonderful letter from Joyce W. She writes to thank me for my message in the January issue of the REAM News. She writes: “It was funny, down to earth, and presented an inside look about you, our new president. Thanks for that. I was very involved when I lived in St. Cloud, but as of May 2018 I moved to a retirement villa. I do love it – no more shoveling, no more warming up the car, no more feeding birds in the cold, and all that goes with living alone in a big house. I have found a place to volunteer – right here on the lower level with ‘Open Circle’, a day care for Metro adults. They are my students, only older!”

It’s folks like Joyce that make our communities so wonderful. Thank you to all the retired educators who make a difference for as long as you are able. I always say: “Once a teacher, always a teacher!”

That’s it from the Edge of Wright.

Here’s a short story I included in my recent Christmas letter that I thought you might enjoy. We did have a good Christmas and are now looking forward to planning the REAM Conference in Granite Falls for this fall and getting my feet wet as your new REAM President. May you all have a Happy and Blessed 2019.

Well, here it is, only ten days until Christmas, so do you have everything done for this big event? I’m hoping most of you are almost ready and some of you may even have been ready for weeks now; but as for me, that’s not happening, at least not yet. Oh, I do have our Christmas tree up and lit, but that’s only because I never took it down last year. Seems much easier to just unplug it from the end of January until the first of December than it is to take it down and put it away. I used to do that, but by the time Christmas rolled around the next year, I couldn’t find the tree and had to buy a new one, so this way, I always know where it is, and it costs less, too! Besides, it’s one of the 3-foot tall trees, and it sits on a table by the living room picture window, so it doesn’t take up as much room as one might think. We also don’t buy many gifts and hardly receive any on Christmas or Christmas Eve either, so don’t need any room under the tree for them. Our kids are all grown up and even the grand kids don’t come to our home for Christmas, so it’s kind of nice to just have the lone tree in the house.

Years ago, when our kids were growing-up they would go out into our woods and harvest a live tree, drag it home, and spend hours putting it up and decorating it. Then the cat or one of the kids would knock it down by accident and we’d have to start all over again. One year it fell right on top of our youngest child. Boy, did he get scared and scream for all he was worth. From then on, we would anchor it to the wall with string or wire, which worked, but made it harder to take down after Christmas. And all those holes in the wall didn’t look good either. Then, there was the year that we had our neighbors over for Christmas Eve Dinner. When we exchanged gifts, each of the three guys gave each other a pair of those gold work gloves. All the same brand, size and color. Surely got a chuckle out of that one.

I’m sure most of you have similar stories when you think back on previous Christmases, so jot them down and share them with the family. This could even be considered a special kind of gift for the future. (Written on December 10, 2018)

Salutations from your newly elected REAM President Jennie K. Hanson:

I was asked at last year’s REAM Conference if I would consider the President Elect’s position. I wasn’t sure at the time, but after thinking it over for a month or two, I decided that this is something I’d like to do because I already know so many of you and I wanted to help in any way that I could. If you want to know more about me, go to the mnream.org website and read my article in the March 2018 issue.

This was a short-term position as I accepted the position of President at the September 2018 Conference. I know that I will have good people with whom to work and that they will help in any way they can. Since I live about 140 miles North of St. Paul, I will have to depend on those board members who live much closer to attend some of the meetings that I can’t. I am especially thankful to have President-Elect Paul Ehrhard and Past President Lonnie Duberstein as back up.

Thank you and recognition needs to be given to every member that serves on the REAM Board. All our REAM members need to be reminded that our board is made up of hard working, selfless individuals dedicated to serving. I can honestly say that if this wasn’t true, I would not have agreed to this position.

So, now I have just returned from our Annual REAM Conference which was held at Jackpot Junction in Morton, Minnesota. What a whirlwind of events, meetings, breakout sessions and general over all camaraderie. The folks who were able to attend were more than welcoming to first time attenders and to me. It seems like “Old Home Week” when we gather for our annual Conferences. So many friendships are forged during our time together. For those of you who haven’t been able to attend, please consider joining us at Granite Falls next year. You know that there are over 9,000 REAM members and only about 100 come to the conference. Maybe if you are one of those who do attend, you could encourage your locals to sponsor more members to attend.

I also want to congratulate Cheryl Huettl, Kay Morcomb and Lynn Montgomery for receiving the 2018 REAM Educator Award this year. Their dedication to REAM, their local units, and communities is to be applauded.

There are also many other retired educators that should be nominated for these awards, so think about nominating them next year. Nominations can be sent to Lindsay Lally at 5560 Lally Rd. Cromwell, MN 55726. Phone: 218-644-3739. lalypop@citlink.net. Letters of nomination are preferred to emails.

Our country is at a real crossroads this year as the General Election is coming up on November 6th. All I can ask of you is to be informed, remember to VOTE, and to get your friends and neighbors out to vote. Our pensions and Social Security are always at stake. We can also protect our pensions by joining REAM and getting all our retired educators to join too. Did you know that there are over 40,000 retired educators in MN? We would like all of them to join us. We work for you! Numbers count!

Jennie K. Hanson

This past Monday REAM received national attention as the state host of the Association of State Retired Teacher Executives (ASRTE). ASRTE members are the executive directors of their Retired Educator Associations (REA). Their conference this summer visited Minnesota after the invitation from Chuck Hellie. REAM, with affiliates AARP and the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA), along with Association Member Benefits Advisors (AMBA) sponsored the conference and two very nice receptions. One of the reasons that Minnesota was selected as the host site is because of the cooperation we have with AARP. Chuck and I were given time, at each event, to brag about what is good with REAM. I believe the group was impressed with our association.

Another conference that I would like to call your attention to is our own Annual REAM Conference held the last Monday, September 24th, and Tuesday, September 25th. It is not too late to register for this enjoyable event. Information was in the July REAM NEWS and can be found in this issue as well. Please consider joining us at Jackpot Junction Casino in Morton, Minnesota.

I have heard that retirees have one of the highest voting percentages in the country. I’m going to add my assumption, although not researched; I believe retired educators have one of the highest percentages within that group. It makes sense to me, that with education, one better understands the privilege and duty of voting. Other articles in this newsletter, I’m sure, will mention the importance of voting, and my message certainly supports that. Never forget that public pensions are controlled by the Legislature. It does matter who is elected to safeguard your pension. Be sure your choices are candidates who are friendly to public pensions, education, and seniors. We need to elect legislators that understand the long-term value of defined benefit retirement plans for the retirees as well as for the recruitment incentive of future public school employees. You may not be political, but your pension is, so be sure to vote.

This is my last President’s Message . . . the past two years have, indeed, been a trip.

As your president, I have been honored, privileged, and humbled by the responsibility of representing Minnesota’s wonderful, retired educators.

To bring my term full circle, I will close with a thought written about in my first message (October 2016). I began this adventure, counseled, and convinced, by former REAM President Jerry Irsfeld, when he said; “Don’t worry Lonnie, you will have good people to work with.” Since then, I have borrowed his line many times, for he definitely spoke the truth.

To the members of REAM, and especially the Board, my sincere thanks for making Jerry’s statement come true.

Lonnie

Imagine my surprise when I received a call from Governor Dayton’s office asking me to speak at the signing ceremony for the public pension bill. It was indeed an honor and privilege to speak on behalf of public school employees. The signing celebration was, of course, recognition for commitment to the future of public pensions, a message very good for Minnesota.

Over the past several years, many people have worked for the passage of this comprehensive pension bill. There have been far too many advocates to credit individually by name. This year, the bill was a true bipartisan, unanimous statement of support to the active, and retired, public employees of Minnesota. Passage of this bill (SF 2620) reaffirms the state’s ongoing promise to public employees for a modest, secure, delayed compensation pension. That promise is increasingly an important factor affecting the recruitment and retention of public employees.

Certainly, some of the positive feelings that come about with the passage of this bill are from knowing that REAM members played a role. I am avoiding mentioning anyone specifically, because I know that my list could never be complete. Thank you members.

The Directors, Boards and Staff members of TRA, PERA, MSRS, and SPTRFA are to be commended for their tireless work creating proposals, testifying, and promoting this bill.

I would like to pull three paragraphs from my speech to include in this message:

“Thank you, Governor Dayton, for leadership in forming the Blue Ribbon Panel. Thank you for adding pension appropriation dollars to your budget proposal. Your dogged determination over the past three years, along with your continued support for public employees, made this day possible. Again, thank you.

“I genuinely admire and collectively thank the organizers and the many members of the Public Employees Pension Coalition; I believe that much of the unanimous voting was because of your efforts.

“And finally, for the positive social and economic benefits of this bill, and the genuine, bipartisan cooperation greatly appreciated by the public, the Retired Educators Association of Minnesota send a sincere THANK YOU to everyone who played a part in its passing.”

The future of Minnesota’s Pension Systems is a little brighter today than it was a few months ago, and it may seem like our work is finished. However, it is just a respite, and we must never forget that pensions are controlled by the legislature and may change with each session. It is imperative that we stay vigilant, remain positive advocates, and VOTE for those candidates who support defined benefit, public pensions.

This afternoon Nancy, my wife, and I were able to enjoy a gathering for a friend celebrating his 88th birthday, Dick Rademacher. He is a retired Mounds View teacher and principal. Also at the celebration were: Jerry and Nancy Irsfeld, and John Fisher. Both Jerry and John are Past REAM Presidents. As Dick was saying a few words to the whole group, he introduced his family members; and, as he calls us, his “President Friends.” He asked the educators in the group to raise their hand and there were many who did so. I don’t clearly remember his exact words, but they sent a thank-you message to us (REAM) for working to protect their pensions. It was nice to hear a statement like that reinforcing the work for mission of REAM. So many people in that room were living a secure, comfortable life because of their defined-benefit public pension. An earned, dignified retirement should be the reward for all public employee workers.

I hear comments like Dick’s quite often as I visit local units, including my own in Roseville. They help to make all of the time and energy expended seem well worth the effort. The pension cause is just, and the feeling of helping colleagues in their retirement years is extremely rewarding. I do not do this pension advocacy alone. There are many, many others invested in REAM’s mission. The board members are working to keep the pension message alive. REAM members have been contacting their legislators reminding them of the clear benefits to Minnesota of having a strong retirement system. Everyone’s voice is needed to let legislators know the great value that public pensions have in the economy of the state. Please do your part in spreading the message. Please do your part in volunteering with your local unit, and finally, please consider becoming a part of the REAM team by accepting a leadership role somewhere in the association. I’m sure that all of the local units could use additional help. Your state board has openings that may interest you, and I guarantee that you will have good people to work with.

You can still make a difference,

Lonnie

As I begin to write this message, I am reminded of the three-week time frame needed before the REAM NEWS is actually distributed. Already this year, the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA) has had a stakeholder’s meeting (January 10th), and the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR) has met three times (January 12th and 24th, and February 2nd). Both will be meeting again before you receive this newsletter. REAM Board Members represent your Association at all of these meetings and will continue to do so. The presence of REAM members monitoring the meetings – often times formally through testifying, and casually before and after the official meetings, should not be underestimated. Over the years, REAM has built solid working relationships with many different people and groups concerned with defined-benefit public pensions. Those relationships cannot be built just through reading their emails or website articles. Convergence at the Capitol, and face-to-face meetings, are vital for our message: that of Protecting Public Pensions. Regardless of your method of contact, I sincerely thank all of you who have ever taken time to share the message of REAM with legislators and potential members. Your volunteer commitment truly makes a positive difference.

Getting back to the issue of information delay brings me to an important point. While the in person contacts are important, everyone is encouraged to visit the REAM website (mnream.org) for more timely information. I understand that everyone does not have a computer and/or inter-net connection at their residence making visits to the REAM website inconvenient. In that case, perhaps you have web access through your cell-phone; also public libraries and senior centers often have computer stations free for public use.

Although the REAM website is always a work in progress, and may change in appearance and content, I direct your attention to the home page, left column, to the section titled Legislature. It is directly under the photo of the Golden Quadriga, Minnesota’s famous four-horse chariot. Valuable links are posted there to help you make easy contact with your elected officials and view the latest information about the LCPR. You may also register to automatically receive the latest legislative notifications simply by providing your name and email address. Your voice is important in the current LCPR information quest exploring the possibility of privatizing Minnesota’s public pensions. Minnesota should not follow the national trend that has had states switching from defined-benefit (DB) plans to hybrid and/or defined-contribution (DC) plans involving 401k products. The LCPR has brought in several speakers this year, as in the past, who are determined to eliminate the lifetime pension guarantee which the DB public pension plans provide.

This past week, many REAM members successfully proposed resolutions at their Caucus gathering that supported the DB plan and provided funding for the public pension systems. The wording is from Education Minnesota (EDMN) and EDMN-Retired two associations that share common interests and concerns. The wording of the two resolutions, and the three accompanying rationale statements, mirror the mission of REAM. The words should remind us of what is at stake. Pensions are political, and your voice and vote is vital.

RESOLUTIONS:

  1. I move the party support a strong, secure retirement system for our public educators and support the goal of maintaining a defined-benefit pension plan for current and future generations.
  2. I move the party support providing an investment of state funding to ensure continued financial stability of the major public pension funds.

RATIONALE:

  1. Pensions are deferred payments to Minnesotans for work already done serving the public, including educators who worked in public schools.
  2. There is a shortage of fully qualified and experienced teachers in Minnesota. Pensions are an important incentive for educators to remain on the job.
  3. Nearly two-thirds of young workers said in a recent survey that a defined- benefit pension was an important factor in accepting a job, making pensions a recruiting tool for public schools.

Keep informed, stay active, and be heard

Friday and Saturday, November 17-18, Tim Moynihan, Legislative Co-Chair, and I were able to attend an event hosted by Education Minnesota centering on the topic of political involvement. The conference was held at the Minneapolis Convention Center and attended by close to 500 EDMN-Active and EDMN-Retired members. A highlight of the conference was the Gubernatorial Candidate Forum on Friday evening. Eight candidates answered questions put forth by members along with their opening and closing remarks. It was the first step in the process to earn the EDMN endorsement for the 2018 election. All declared candidates were invited, nine responded, eight DFL and Independent candidates attended. No GOP candidate attended the Conference.

Saturday was filled with several general and breakout sessions with the topics focused on political activism for future endorsed candidates. Early voting, social media, digital organizing, and winning local elections were some of the presentations available to attend.

The take away message of the conference was very clear. The 2018 elections are critical if Minnesota is to make positive progress with several educational issues facing the state for both actives and retirees. I will attempt to recreate a statement that I heard from one of the presenters, “If you think that you are not into politics, you need to know that politics are into you.” People that are given the power over our lives are given it by votes. Be sure that you at least know what the candidates believe, and stand for, before you honor them with your vote. It is not too early to begin your information gathering. Please be active in that process by keeping informed of the issues, contacting the candidates and letting them know what you expect from them. A favorite statement of Past President John Fisher reminds us how important it is to be informed about those seeking office and then voting based on the issues that matter most. His very short and often stated message is – Pensions are Political.

Our pensions are managed by Public Pension Associations that are governed by elected officials. It behooves all of us to be knowledgeable about those seeking office. For the health of our defined benefit pensions, and the positive effect they have for the recruitment and retention of school staff members it is imperative that all of us become informed voters.

Next year, ahead of the election, gubernatorial candidate information, along with their responses to interview questions, will be shared in the REAM NEWS to help you make your decision. A reminder – REAM is a nonpartisan association, it neither endorses nor contributes to political candidates.

Yesterday, in Rochester, I was able to spend the day with members of SEREAM. It was indeed an enjoyable event. For many years, the retired educators from numerous communities in Southeast Minnesota have hosted two conferences a year.

The day went by quickly and drew attention to many issues facing REAM members. Erin Parrish, Associate State Director for AARP, lead off the morning as she spoke about several issues of importance for the seniors. She spoke about efforts to decrease the tax liability on Social Security income, the effort to create a retirement savings plan for employees who do not currently have a plan at work, and the pending concerns about health care reform. Information about these issues, as well as several others, may be found at the website AARP.ORG

Angela Lunde, an Associate in Neurology with the Mayo Clinic Study on Aging, entertained and informed the audience as she spoke about the aging brain. She shared recent results from studies on brain growth and memory.

John Wicklund, TRA’s Chief Financial Officer, shared a PowerPoint presentation and handout about many topics of concern for TRA members. Topics included the very good investment year (just over 15%) from the State Board of Investment. This helps the fund but certainly does not take away from future concerns. He spoke about the 2017 legislative action/inaction, and that TRA is beginning to plan for the 2018 legislative session. (Many REAM Board members will be gathering before the TRA November 15th Board meeting to put together a statement for their consideration.)

Representative Gene Pelowski, from Winona, was very informative and thought provoking as he shared his thoughts on, “How Education Fails To Educate The Legislature On Its Needs.” His take-away message was; the best way to lobby is in person – and do it more than once!” I will add that REAM members need to get in touch with their elected officials, screen candidates for pension positions, and then be sure to vote!

Jay Furst, Editor of the Rochester Post Bulletin, spoke about a topic very much in the news this past year – “Fake News.” He clarified several instances in which news broadcasts or publications could be in error, but should not be considered fake.

Of course, Kay Morcomb, SEREAM President, had a few minutes in front of the group, as did I, Paul Ehrhard, REAM VP, as well as Chuck Hellie, REAM Executive Director. Our traditional entertainment was “Humor THAYER-apy,” shared by Edna Thayer. The coffee, juice, ice water and rolls were always available, and yes, the meal at lunch was very good.

The purpose of this message is to share with all of our members what can be accomplished by working together. By sharing the tasks and responsibilities great things can be done that benefit colleagues and friends.

I have had the pleasure of attending several SEREAM Conferences. I always appreciate the collaborative efforts from many members that are needed to make such events run smoothly. I am not going to specifically thank anyone, because I know that very deserving members would be missed, and I do not want to do that. So, I want to say thank-you to everyone involved for creating a very worthwhile, informative, and enjoyable Wednesday in October.

I do think the unique collection of many local units making up SEREAM have created a gem of an association! If, collectively, you had been a building staff, I would have liked to work with you.

Collectively, we really are better,

Lonnie

Recently, a letter from REAM was sent to over 80,000 retired public school employees inviting them to join REAM. They all receive a pension income from TRA and/or PERA. As a REAM member you will not be receiving that letter, because you have already made the important decision to be a part of the team to protect public pensions. However, I’d like you to read its message reprinted below, because it reminds us of the important work being done. Knowing that you value the message below, I now encourage you to be a voice of recruitment for the cause. Share this newsletter, and become a REAM cheerleader!

Lonnie

August 2017

Dear Retired Public School Employee,

This letter is a special and urgent invitation from the REAM Board of Directors encouraging you, and over 80,000 others, to join us in supporting public pensions. Your membership commitment will help strengthen the voice of REAM as we speak out in support of promised public pensions. The time to get involved could hardly be more critical, as defined benefit pensions have increasingly come under attack.

Founded in 1954, the Retired Educators Association of Minnesota (REAM) is an independent, self-governing association of retired school employees who receive their pensions from TRA and/or PERA. REAM volunteers monitor and advocate for your public pension, which is a well-deserved and important benefit that you have earned for your years of service in the field of education. One could easily think of your pension as delayed salary rather than defined benefit.

Our goal is to protect the defined benefit pensions of Minnesota public school employees.

To do this, we monitor the actions of, and provide information to, the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA), the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR), the Minnesota House/Senate and the Governor, in an effort to represent those that have made a career choice of public service.

Those powerful groups, mentioned above, control and vote on your pension …
When was the last time you made contact, and gave input, to any of them?

By joining REAM, your support will help our experienced team make contact for you, speak on your behalf, and keep you informed about pension information. Think of family members and friends that may be following in your career footsteps, along with other current and future Minnesota public school employees. We believe they deserve to have a voice for a safe, secure pension. Our message is extremely clear . . . earned, defined benefit, public pensions are promises that must be kept. You know the importance of that promise, because you know the benefits and value of having a public pension. Together we also know the importance of such a pension for the recruitment and retention of current and future school employees.

When REAM members advocate, and at times testify, legislators frequently ask, “How many people do you represent?” The answer to that question could affect how much interest they have. Think for a moment … if we would be able to answer, “Over 80,000 from nearly every city and town across the state,” how very impressive that reply would be. We are currently closing in on the first 10,000 with over 9,700 members. Numbers do count in the political arena. Make sure that your voice is included and strongly heard.

Joining REAM is easy. Simply return the membership form with your payment, or you may join online at www.mnream.org

Welcome to your hard working REAM Association!

Sincerely,

Lonnie Duberstein – REAM President

In a Dream Big scenario, I would wish for REAM and public education to have unlimited funds: funds to be able to compete with the many, very well funded, anti-public pension entities that are out to eliminate the defined benefit system on which we depend for retirement security, funds to be able to ignite and educate the active teaching ranks throughout this country to the growing theft of their public pension promise, funds to be able to mass a lobbyist onslaught more effective than those whose primary goal seems to promote corporate greed, funds to be able to battle the dragons that are against first class funding for public education, funds that would help maintain and build schools rather than rebuilding stadiums that are less than half the age of most public schools, funds that would attract and retain the finest teachers giving them a rock-solid promise of a secure tomorrow, funds that would guarantee a bright future by eliminating the need for referendums by fully funding all students pre-k through college in all states and US Territories. In my Dream Big world, there would be no teacher retention or shortage crisis. Teaching would once again be a proud profession, not the one that currently has some educators discouraging their own children from becoming teachers. There would be no students left behind. The complete health, welfare, and education of the young would, and should, be the prime directive of a truly rational, forward thinking society.

Of course, Dream Big will never happen . . . too many dream blockers are in the way. Too many powerful people are happy with the economic divide that is increasingly separating the “really have” few, from the “barely have anything” many. Too many people are ready to remove the word public from in front of the word school. Too many people are convinced and satisfied that our country already does enough for the poor, the sick, the children, the homeless, the hungry, the illiterate, the elderly, the jobless, the disabled, the addicted, meaning basically the voiceless . . . the moneyless.

I am increasingly bothered by the fact that money seems to dictate the outcomes available for almost all solutions used to fix problems. There is really no lack of money or wealth in the world; it is just distributed with gross inequity. Why is money allowed to be the elephant in the room when our elected officials make decisions regarding legislation? Why is money allowed to take such control over the election process and then of those elected? Why can’t retirement promises be kept for those that serve the public while accepting lower salaries?

I am also increasingly aware of the fact that the concerns mentioned in this message will never be ameliorated just because they should be the right things to do. It will take pressure from the masses to get elected officials to do what is right for public service employees. As states across the nation continue to change to defined contribution pension plans the pressure to do so intensifies in Minnesota. Your voice needs to be a part of the masses reminding the legislators that they have a promise to keep to the public employees of the state. Our elected officials have an obligation to fully fund the public pension plans, thus insuring the retirement security for thousands of seniors throughout the entire state. Please be in contact with your elected officials this legislative session.

Wow!

I wanted to open with the first word that I thought of when I heard our latest membership numbers. Are we running out of people to recruit? Not even close, but REAM is moving in the right direction. With over 9,500 members we are improving our credibility at the Capitol. Legislators know numbers, and having members scattered throughout every legislative district in the state helps the Association become more noticeable and influential.

So, if you have invited a colleague to join REAM, if you have shared the REAM message with a retired friend, if you have volunteered time and effort to your local unit, if you have contributed to the Life Plus concept, if you have been to the REAM website, if you have shared your thoughts with a legislator, if you have written a letter or article to share your views about REAM or TRA, if you have been to the Annual Convention/Conference, if you have attended any of the Leadership Conferences, if you have EVER volunteered for a leadership position in your STATE or local unit, if you have attended Lobby Day, if you have attended the annual Legislative Conference, if you have availed yourself of any AMBA benefits, if you have traveled with any of the travel opportunities, if you have done any of a hundred different things to promote REAM or support your public pension… THANK YOU, for helping to make REAM an association of which to be proud.

There is still a lot of work to be done, and there are so many retirees left to reach. I challenge everyone reading this newsletter to make a goal of finding at least one new member to add to the roster. In coaching language, REAM doesn’t cut players, if you sign up, you can play. If you play… you can help make a positive difference, you can continue work-life friendships, you can make new friendships, and you can get the all-over-good-feeling that comes from being a part of the team! Be a cheerleader for TEAM REAM. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

I’d like to transition to a different topic for the remainder of this message. It has been a very busy time for your REAM leaders, especially the Legislative Committee members. With the 2017 Legislative Commission on Pension and Retirement (LCPR) in session, and the TRA Board working up a proposal to present at the Capitol, REAM has been busy. You have been well represented at these meetings. The fourteen Senators and Representatives that make up the LCPR will be hearing testimony on your behalf as REAM continues to “Protect Pensions, Serve Members”.

I would publicly like to recognize and thank the REAM Legislative team: Tim Moynihan, Henry Carbone, Don Leathers, and John Fisher for planning and directing the 2017 Annual Legislative Conference held February 8th, at the Maple Grove Community Center. The keynote speaker this year was Mr. Tom Nicholls, the Senior Legislative Representative from the National Retired Teachers Association. His presentation centered on an overview of public pensions and their trend nationwide. His presentation was video taped, and the plan is to have portions of it on the REAM website. The event is alternately hosted by REAM and Education Minnesota, and to attend is very worthwhile. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this very informative conference next year as our colleagues in Education Minnesota host the event.

Time to sign off with… GO TEAM REAM!

Thursday morning, December 8th, I was to begin my first REAM Board meeting as its president. The group was smaller than usual, perhaps helping to make the meeting less intimidating, more inviting, and more forgiving of newbie mistakes. In a way, it reminded me of the years when I was a young teacher just beginning a new school year. This morning, I would be in the spotlight, and I would be expected to fulfill the duties of president as the members envision them to be. I would be moving into the place at the front of the table from where John Fisher wisely, and competently guided the REAM Board. The veteran had retired, and the rookie was now in the game.

I am confident of my abilities, my growing knowledge base, and of my desire to be of service to others. It was my relatively recent entry into the world of politics and the actions of Parliamentary Procedure that kept creeping into my thoughts giving me butterflies.

The gavel sounded, the meeting was called to order. As I looked out at the Board members, I was met with smiles and friendly faces all around. I remember immediately feeling at ease, sure that the meeting would be just fine, and the experience would be positive. In the November REAM NEWS, I thanked Jerry Irsfeld (former President and currently the East Metro Director) for giving me the challenge to be a part of this Association. Now, I would like to thank him again for those words that I have repeated often, “You will have good people to work with.” Those words were truly a present given to me. At the time I received them I had no idea of their value or their truth. The REAM Board members, my Board, your Board, OUR Board were not going to let me sink. They filled in information with their reports and handouts, thoughtfully answered questions, raised thoughtful questions, allowed Robert’s Rules of Order some flexibility so as to be a learning experience for me, carried on the work of the agenda in a professional manner, exhibited a very obvious dedication to the Association, and once again reminded me of the phrase spoken by one of my mentors. “You will have good people to work with.” The more time I spend with my local, Roseville Area Retired Employees Association and the Retired Educators Association of Minnesota the more convinced I become of the truth and wisdom of those eight words.

The day before the Board meeting I watched a couple of hours of YouTube videos showing instructional segments for the use of Robert’s Rules of Order in running a meeting. That morning, while a little awkward at times, the business was taken care of with understanding, patience and gentle coaching. Then it hit me, like a palm to the forehead, duh… I was working with teachers. That’s what they did with a new student. Over their years, they are indoctrinated to help others. That’s who they are. I did indeed have good people to work with.

So, why did I choose to write a narrative of this experience? Many reasons come to mind, but above all, the primary reason is to assure everyone that good people are in all of our locals. I encourage everyone to volunteer their time and talents to their local group and REAM. The rewards, and building friendships, that come from volunteer service are powerful medicine. Retired public school employees know that, understand that, and have felt that. Their high rate of volunteerism is proof of the power of service to others. Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, founder of the National Retired Teachers Association and AARP, had a guiding principle: “To serve, not to be served.”

Get involved. Local retiree groups are made of good people and always looking to expand their numbers. Don’t have a group in your area? Start one. Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus was 63 when she started NRTA and 74 when she founded AARP! The good feelings of serving others and forming new bonds of friendship are powerful potions for the journey through life. If you are fortunate enough to have a local in your area… please join, attend the gatherings, and don’t be afraid to accept a leadership role…because…

“You will have good people to work with.”

This first message from a new president absolutely needs to begin with words of recognition. For the past four years, REAM was fortunate to have had John Fisher as its president. His dedication to the Association has spanned many years beyond those four. As a former member of the Legislative Committee, he brought years of valuable legislative experience with him to the presidency. His years of teaching history, political science, along with coaching and judging speech and debate certainly added to his skill set as a leader of REAM.

A defining moment that really displayed John’s character happened at a Board meeting a little over two years ago. At that time there was no president-elect to take over. John did that which was needed at the time, and he agreed to serve another two-year term – knowing the work it entails.

Anyone involved with volunteer organizations knows the difficulty of filling leadership positions. With everyone’s crazy, busy schedules the willingness to commit is truly a difficult decision, one made by few. Joining a group can be really quite easy, but serving the group is the challenge.

Thank you John, for answering that challenge – twice. REAM owes you a debt of gratitude.

Certainly, recognition and thanks needs to also be given to every member that serves on the REAM Board. All members need to be reminded that your Board is made up of hard-working, selfless individuals dedicated to serving. I can honestly write that had that not been the case, I would not have agreed to this position.

About eight years ago, Jerry Irsfeld, then as now, a REAM Board member asked me to consider being president-elect for the Roseville local. It seemed like such an out of the blue request, because I absolutely did not see myself in such a position. I didn’t say yes right away, but something he said then has always stuck with me. He used the same line on me for this position. That bottom line statement that convinced me to take both challenges was this, “You will have good people to work with.” It was true then, and it is true now.

Thank you Jerry, for giving me that challenge – twice. I have been able to do things that would not have been possible without your encouragement.

The above is not really a short bio message about me, I may share some of that in December, but it does let you know something of me. One of my favorite things to do is to share recognition. And, I think we all benefit by working cooperatively with each other. A quote that I’ve used often goes something like this, “Think how much could be done, if we didn’t care who received the credit.”

I would be remiss if this October message didn’t include something about the upcoming November election. This is the easy part for me, because I now ask you to revisit the September issue of the REAM NEWS and reread the President’s Message by John Fisher and the Legislative Report by Don Leathers. Both articles are excellent and filled with important information about REAM concerns and the steps that should be taken with potential candidates. Bottom line, find out what their commitment is toward public sector pensions and defined benefit plans. We need to elect legislators that understand the long-term value of defined benefit retirement plans for the retirees as well as the recruitment incentive for future public school employees.

You may not be political, but be sure to vote, because your pension is political.

Looking forward to the challenge,

Lonnie

I hope that many of you are planning on attending the 2016 conference in the middle of Minnesota: beautiful and exciting Alexandria. It is a chance to see REAM in action, enjoy the company of REAM friends, or make new friends, and get updated information on the legislative issues coming up.

As I’ve stated many time in my numerous visits with local REAM units throughout greater Minnesota, “pensions are political”, and we as REAM members MUST be actively engaged in the political process. In looking back, as I come to the closing of my term as your president, I recall the actions which you as REAM members helped make possible.

We worked with the LCPR (Legislative Commission of Pensions and Retirement) to preserve and protect public pensions from the challenges of changing our TRA/PERA pension from the current defined benefit program to a defined contribution plan. Your Legislative Committee, Don Leathers, Tim Moynihan, and Henry Carbone, were instrumental in advocating and defending the Defined Benefit Plan.

We were in attendance at meetings with the SBI (State Board of Investment), the TRA (Teacher’s Retirement Association), and the Minnesota Legislative Committees.

  • REAM worked with TRA in defense of the Defined Benefit Plan. Your assistance in contacting members of the LCPR committee was critical. We preserved the Defined Benefit Plan for us as well as for our colleagues that are coming close to retirement.
  • Your commitment to using the positive facts in your legislative contacts was powerful. You followed the lead of your REAM Board of Directors to support public sector pensions by citing the following:
    • Teachers and educational support personnel contribute to their pension plans from their very first pay check—this is not so in many other states.
    • The majority of your TRA/PERA pension, about 70%, comes from investments which are managed and directed by the State Board of Investment (SBI).
    • Pension benefits are determined by the Minnesota Legislature. The average TRA check is about $2300 per month.
    • Roughly 87% of MN pension receivers spend their money in Minnesota, providing a vital and continual economic stimulus to Minnesota’s economy.

REAM, under the leadership of our new President Lonnie Duberstein and the REAM Legislative Committee, along with your REAM Board of Directors, will remain thorough and proactive in protecting public pension funds during the next round of legislative hearings. We will need your help.

I ask that you diligently seek commitment from your legislative candidates seeking your vote in this critical Minnesota election. All members of the Minnesota legislature—both the Senate and House members are up for election. ASK them about their commitment to public sector pensions. PROVIDE them with FACTS to support public sector pensions. This is our commitment for our pension benefits, AND for pension benefits for our colleagues who will soon be joining us. As TRA has stated many times, “pensions are a requirement and a retainment tool” for TRA/PERA members. Future TRA/PERA retirees will appreciate our diligence.

I will commit myself, as your REAM Past-President, to assist REAM in whatever way the REAM President and Board see fit. My experience with your REAM Board and your Executive Director has been enlightening and enjoyable. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.

John Fisher

TRA pension legislation was passed by the legislature, but vetoed by Governor Dayton. The governor’s rational for his veto, an unfair burden to retirees, puts the TRA and other MN pension plans in jeopardy.

The MN legislative plan was a stopgap measure for reaching TRA Sustainability. It’s only component on the stability component would have cut TRA COLA to 1%, from the 2% under current legislation. The financial package to address the projected $106 million deficit would need to be addressed in the 2017 legislation session. The governor’s message was that it is unfair to place the burden on current retirees.

The governor has the authority to call for a special session. At this time legislation to deal with TRA’s sustainability issue is NOT on the agenda. As we know a ‘special session’s’ agenda and components are decided prior to the governor’s call for the session. Without consideration in a special session the sustainability MUST be considered in the 2017 session.

This presents TRA/REAM members with the task of being very knowledgeable and actively involved in the 2016 election campaigns. With both the MN House and Senate up for the election of 201 seats, we need to attend candidate’s rallies, pay attention to candidate’s speeches, and become involved in campaigns to elect our legislators. Involvement means that we ask the candidates what position they hold on MN public pensions. You know the facts and you need to continue with your educational expertise to inform/educate our candidates about MN public pensions. You need to eradicate pension myths.

Here are some key points to educate your candidates, or current legislator:

  1. Teachers and other public pension members CONTRIBUTE to their pensions at 14%. employers, whether state, city, county, or school district, contribute 17%, investment returns, managed by the State Board of Investment, contribute 69%
  2. The MN state’s contribution to our pensions is 1.6%. This is less than the average state contribution nationwide, which is a 2.8%.
  3. TRA MN pensioners receive, on average, $2300 per month for new retirees. 87% of MN pension receivers stay in Minnesota. Economic impact of Minnesota public pensions
    • $7 billion impact on state economy
    • 46,581 jobs
    • $1.2 billion annually in federal, state and local revenue
  4. MN pension have always been focused in working with the legislature to reform/modify pension plans to maintain sustainability.
  5. MN Pension plans are transparent in reporting pension costs.
  6. Defined Benefit plan costs are 46% lower than a 401 (k) plan of investment. To change from a defined benefit plan to a 401 (k) plan would cost nearly $3 billion over the next decade and we would very likely receive less money in our pension checks.

As REAM members it is vital that we know and provide correct answers in defense of our pensions. As your president, I contend that legislative candidates and incumbent legislators need education on pensions. It is our responsibility, as educators and receivers of these pensions, to discuss and educate our legislators and would be legislators of the benefits these pensions bring to every one of the counties they represent in the state of Minnesota. We cannot assume they know the figures or have the correct information. REAM is working at protecting pensions for TRA/PERA retirees and we are working at protecting pensions for those who are currently in the system and will soon become retirees, and for TRA/PERA members who will start their careers in 2017. Your active involvement and voice in defense of Defined Pension Benefits is critical in this election year