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On March 8, a letter was sent from the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) to approximately 42 educators previously employed by Lompoc Unified School District, who retired in 2016, with a “retirement incentive.”

This letter informed us our monthly pension would be changing, as of April 1, and would continue for our lifetime because of a “misreported final compensation,” which was discovered during a CalSTRS audit of Lompoc Unified School District in late 2018.

This “misreported final compensation” resulted in us being “overpaid.” Now, a “repayment” is being required of us at the rate of 5 percent, deducted from our pension monthly, until this “overpayment” is repaid in full, and these deductions will continue until July 2019.

The repayment has not only decreased our monthly income up to $200 or more, but the “misreported final compensation” will also create a reduction in our pension every month for the rest of our lives.

We had never been informed of any of this by LUSD. It wasn’t until CalSTRS notified us with that letter that we were made aware. Some of us then contacted CalSTRS, the district and school board members in an attempt to achieve some clarity.

CalSTRS claimed, during a couple of phone calls, that the error was a misreported final compensation by the district. In addition to CalSTRS, every board member was emailed, as was the assistant superintendent of Business Services, John Karbula. Yet, out of five board members, only two members showed any concern regarding the situation, or continued to have open communication with us.

As a side note, no correspondence was ever received from Karbula or the district until inquiries were made.

Eventually, a somewhat dismissive and inaccurate letter, dated April 5, was sent to us by Karbula stating, “The changes in your retirement benefit are from CalSTRS, not from Lompoc Unified School District.”

Instead of taking responsibility for the error on behalf of the district, Karbula said, “We cooperated fully and were open and transparent with CalSTRS during the entire audit process. You will note we were commended for this openness and cooperation in the letter to Superintendent McDonald.”

What does that comment have to do with the district’s misreported final compensation, and its requirement we retirees repay this debt incurred by a district error and its effect on our pension into the foreseeable future? What happened to the district’s obligation to be transparent and open with the retirees affected by this audit? It never notified us of the results of the audit. We would never had been made aware of it if CalSTRS hadn’t notified us.

Shouldn’t the District at least take responsibility for the misreported final compensation and repay the overpayment monies due to CalSTRS on our behalf, since it was their error and not ours? That is the burning question that needs to be asked and equitably resolved.

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Cara Houghton, Cathy Farrell and Janet Towle are 2016 LUSD retirees.

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