Guest Column (10/22/09)

Open letter to Rep. Macaig: Will you support Vermont’s teachers?

Oct. 22, 2009

By Louisa Costantino-Foley

I am proud to say that I have been a teacher in Colchester since 1978. At that time, I began to make my contributions to the Vermont State Teachers Retirement System. It was not a choice any teacher had. It was a mandate that we all must contribute. It still is.

For 31 years, I have had money taken from my paycheck with no say about what happens to it. I had no choice but to trust that the state of Vermont would safeguard my money, oversee my investment and promise that my retirement would be there for me when I needed it. Now four years away from that retirement, I am more nervous about the state’s promise to me than ever before.

Over those 31 years I kept my faith in the state of Vermont — even though I have seen the retirement funds raided from time to time for other uses. I’ve seen those funds used to build roads, heard concerns raised about underfunding of those monies and nervously endured debates about the retirement fund’s future.

Now, I understand that State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, in conjunction with the Legislature, has set up a Commission on the Design and Funding of Retirement and Health Benefit Plans for State Employees and Teachers, which will look at potential changes in the teachers’ retirement system. On the surface, this may seem fine.

However, Mr. Macaig, since you’re a member of the commission, why has the state also hired an out-of-state law firm, Ice Miller (from Indiana), well known for its anti-union activities, to work in conjunction with this commission? Are there no firms in the entire state of Vermont capable of serving its interests?

Given the difficult financial straits the state faces, where does the state find $150,000 to pay this firm’s minimum fee? I just read in the Burlington Free Press about new job cuts. What are the state priorities at this time? 

Teacher retirement funds (and my financial future, along with thousands of other Vermont state employees) are now in the hands of Jeb Spaulding’s commission.

Mr. Macaig, is there a not-so-hidden agenda to continue to underfund (now at an astonishing $700 million) and undermine the retirement system? Why does the commission not include an active teacher, or a single retired teacher, or one state employee, nor even a single school board member from anywhere in the state? Just what does this commission hope to accomplish?

Mr. Macaig, how will you protect those already in the system, including those who put their faith in you to represent them. Mr. Macaig, just who will you represent as you assume your role on this commission?

Admittedly, I am nervous for myself and my family. However, I am also nervous for those educators relatively new to the retirement system and even more so for those idealistic and eager college graduates just starting out. I realize that it is easy to fire up anti-teacher sentiment at Town Meeting and budget time. Overall, however, Vermonters can be proud of their teachers — for what they have done, continue to do and for what they will do in the future for the children of Vermont.

Mr. Macaig, will you, the commission, and the state make us proud by keeping promises long made to people whose service deserves fairness, honesty and transparency?


Louisa Costantino-Foley is a Williston resident and a teacher in the Colchester School District.