There was another important change so teachers should not expect too much more in their paychecks despite years of stagnant or reduced pay because state revenues had plunged in the recession and its aftermath. To their credit, the governor and the Legislature tackled one of the pressing long-term debt issuesthe underfunding in the State Teachers Retirement System.
The shortfall is estimated at $74 billion with actuarial studies showing that the system, that pays a defined benefit to retired educators, could run out of money in 33 years. Thanks to the convoluted law, instead of a board determining contributions as it does with the public employees' pension plan, the Legislature is required to set the rates.
For years, teachers have contributed 8 percent of gross pay and that was matched by the school district plus the state was supposed to add 5.5 percent. To deal with the shortfall, contributions are going to be raised across the board over the next three years.
The state's share will grow from 5.5 percent of salary to 8.8, while the teachers' contribution will increase modestly from 8 percent to 10.25 percent that will be offset by a 2 percent raise. For districts (and teachers' salaries moving forward the contribution grows from 8.25 percent to 19.1 percent, more than doubling. Districts will bear about 70 percent of the overall cost.
That will be a major, but necessary budget hit to ensure that the state keeps its promise to educators. It should be noted that unlike many city and county agencies, where the government started picking up both the employee share and its share of pension contributions, educators have steadily paid 8 percent, regardless of the state of the stock market or other pension fund investments.
The traffic jams on Interstate 680 on weekends during the county fair accurately reflected the attendance. Overall, attendance was up a very healthy 22 percent (after a sub-par 2013) and hit 473,472. The record attendance came in the 100th year fair when 524,577 flocked to the grounds.
The Fourth of July attendance, which welcomed back fireworks after a long hiatus on that Friday, saw 57,294 folks spin the turnstiles.
The fair entered a new partnership with non-profit Oak Tree Racing to enhance horseracing purses across the board. The track attendance showed a 10 percent increase, while the overall handle at the track was up 2 percent. As the Oak Tree partnership matures, officials on both sides will be looking to for the handle to climb much more than 2 percent annually.