This week the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees convened for its quarterly meeting to discuss the status of the 13th check for retired teachers, the agency’s transition to a new office, the opening of the first TRS regional office in El Paso, and the financial health of the TRS Pension fund.
In lieu of a much-needed cost of living adjustment for retired teachers, the Legislature did vote to provide TRS retirees with a one-time supplemental benefit check, commonly referred to as a “13th check.” TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie told the board that retirees should receive the 13th check in mid to late January. This week the agency began mailing notifications to the relevant retirees that they will be receiving the check.
After the board voted unanimously at its September board meeting to purchase a new headquarters outside of downtown Austin, TRS staff reported to the board that they are in the late stages of negotiating the purchase. TRS plans to transition selected divisions to the new facility starting in the summer of 2023. According to TRS’s calculations, the move is estimated to save the agency up to $15 million over the next 20 years.
The board also discussed the opening of its first regional office in El Paso. TRS said the purpose of that office is to better serve members who live hours away from Austin and require in-person assistance from TRS staff. Opening similar TRS regional offices in other areas across the state will be considered if the El Paso office proves to be successful. The office is on schedule to begin serving members by the end of spring 2022.
TRS staff reported recent difficulties hiring and retaining staff members. TRS Chief Operations and Administrative Officer Andrew Roth cited two commonly reported reasons for staff departures: wages and lifestyle. TRS has had difficulty offering competitive salaries to its staff in comparison to private-sector employers in the Austin area. Regarding employee lifestyle, TRS has been conducting internal research to see which staff positions could effectively work from home to provide a more flexible working environment for employees. While TRS has shown general improvement in its ability to respond to member complaints and inquiries over the past few months, the shrinking staff at TRS coupled with the sheer number of teacher retirements the agency is currently having to handle has created some cause for concern for the agency.
Bouncing back after a difficult few quarters at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, the TRS pension fund has largely recovered. The positive trends that the pension saw as the economy began to recover earlier this year have slowed down, but TRS investment staff stated it isn’t a cause for concern. TRS has repeatedly testified in front of the Legislature that the agency could afford a cost of living adjustment for TRS members, but the Legislature has not taken action on this issue yet. Some lawmakers have indicated publicly that the 2023 session would be their preferred time to propose and increase.