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Delegate - Pension vote might result in underfunding

April 22, 2006|By ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.

A plan approved recently by West Virginia educators to fund a state teachers pension system with money from a newer system could result in underfunding if teachers resign in protest, an Eastern Panhandle legislator warned Friday.

Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, said teachers and school service workers unhappy about a vote that could see $660 million of their accrued retirement savings used to fund an older, underfunded retirement system might resign, taking their contributions with them.

"We can't afford to have 10 (percent) to 20 percent of our teachers on this one issue say the only way to keep my retirement is to bail out," Overington said during a small gathering of area teachers who said they are unhappy with the vote's outcome.

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Earlier this year, of 22,707 school employees eligible to cast a ballot, 7,821 voted to merge the two systems, while 4,926 voted against the proposal.

In response, more than 1,000 state teachers and school workers filed a class action suit this month in Kanawha County Circuit Court against the West Virginia Public Consolidated Retirement Board to request an injunction against the merger, which goes into effect July 1.

Eric Goff, a teacher at Hedgesville High School and petitioner in the suit, said the merger, which he regards as an unlawful taking of property, will mean school employees will be required to pay 1 1/2 percent more of their earnings for each year of service to be brought into the old retirement system or lose as much as 25 percent of their accrued investments, most of which had higher rates of return.

Overington, who said he voted in support of the measure allowing the teachers to vote on the merger, said the issue was poorly presented to legislators.

"I don't think a very good job was done in explaining all the details," Overington said. "It was sold as a way to help save the system money, but I think in hindsight, what we've seen is just the opposite."

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