With zero notice Sunday, just one day before it was heard by the Ways & Means Committee, millionaire state Senate Majority "Leader" Rodney Tom (R-Medina) filed a bill that would eliminate defined pension benefits for most state and public school employees, replacing them with a risky 401-K-style savings plan that would subject future retirees to the whims of the market. SB 5856, of which Tom is the sole sponsor, would apply to all future public employees and all current public employees under the age of 45.
That means if you chose a career as a school teacher twenty years ago, trading the opportunity to strike it rich in the private sector for the promise of a secure retirement, you are totally fucked.
Of course, a lot of states have catastrophically underfunded their public employee pension plans. But not Washington. No, Washington has the second strongest funded pension system in the nation, with an enviable overall funding ratio of 98.1 percent. So I'm not exactly sure what the problem is that Tom is attempting to solve by denying teachers and other public employees the pension benefits they were promised.
But don't you dare start complaining about it, because under a second Tom-sponsored bill, SB 5242, public school teachers would lose all job protections, meaning they could be fired for any reason at any time, and with no legal recourse. And we're not just talking laid off—we're talking fired with cause:
(5) If a displaced nonprovisional certificated instructional staff member is not assigned to a nontemporary position with mutual agreement by May 15th of the school year following the displacement, the superintendent may initiate notice of nonrenewal of contract as provided under RCW 28A.405.210. Lack of assignment under this section of a displaced certificated instructional staff member to a nontemporary position after eight or more months, including cumulative time spent in successive assignments to temporary positions, constitutes grounds for a finding of probable cause under RCW 28A.405.210.
And how does a teacher become "displaced"...?
(2)(b) "Displaced" means a certificated instructional staff member assigned to a particular school no longer has an assignment to that school as a result of a request for reassignment by the certificated instructional staff member, a principal, or the district administration; change in program; change in enrollment; or implementation of a state or federal accountability intervention model.
So, you know, don't be a trouble maker. All your principal needs to do to get you fired is request your reassignment. Because the real problem in K-12 education today is that teachers are too empowered.
I had hoped Tom would have used his role as Senate Majority "Leader" to help push through the funding package necessary to pay for the billions of additional K-12 dollars needed to satisfy the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision. But rather than giving our schools the funding they need, Tom is focused on taking away the pension benefits and job security that teachers already have. That's education reform, Rodney Tom style.