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Retired teachers await their state checks

POSTED: May 26, 2009 11:25 p.m.

About 9,000 retired educators in Georgia are waiting on checks following the conclusion of a five-year class action lawsuit against the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.

The Fulton County Superior Court last week approved a resolution to the suit retired educator Larrie Grant Plymel filed against the state-guaranteed retirement system. Plymel sued the system in 2004 when he realized it had not fully paid him and other educators their correct payout since 1983, said Bill Sloan, executive director of the Gainesville-based Georgia Retired Educators Association.

About 15,000 retirees were affected by the miscalculation that resulted from the system using incorrect mortality tables. Retired educators who opted to forego a portion of their pension to create a fund for their beneficiaries were underpaid.

"People who chose to leave money to a beneficiary were having too much money taken out," Sloan said.

He said about 6,000 educators who retired between 1998 and 2004 recovered underpayments last year. It is not clear when the remaining 9,000 retirees will receive their payment since it depends on how long it takes TRS to recalculate the benefits and implement the resolution of the case.

The court’s order of final approval allows affected retirees to recover any underpayments beginning April 4, 1998, and continuing until the time of payment in 2009, according to The Garden City Group representing retirees in the suit. The estates of deceased retirees and beneficiaries are entitled to recover underpayments beginning April 4, 1998, and continuing until the dates of the retirees’ or beneficiaries’ deaths.

The court determined the case had a six-year statute of limitations rather than a 20-year statue of limitations.

Sloan said 7 percent interest will be added to the underpayments. The TRS Web site also reports living retirees and their beneficiaries will be entitled to future increases resulting from calculations using the correct mortality tables.

Sloan said the court ordered TRS to designate a $500 million fund to repay the 15,000 retired educators.

"It’s a good ruling for retired educators," he said. "It may not have gotten them everything they deserved, but they got most of it."

TRS Georgia, which has about $41.6 billion in retirement funds, doles out more than $2.2 billion a year in retiree payroll to nearly 80,000 retired public school and University System of Georgia educators and administrators and their survivors. Educators contribute about 5 percent of their working income to the TRS fund and employers contribute more than 9 percent.

Braselton resident Jack Hanson, 82, retired in 1992 from a 42-year career as an educator in Fulton and Clayton county school systems. He said though he will not draw a TRS pension from Fulton County schools, he will draw a TRS pension from his 10-year stint with Clayton County schools.

Hanson is one of the 1,251 educator retirees in Hall County who collects retirement funds from TRS. He is also one of the 9,000 retirees waiting on a check.

He said he didn’t realize TRS was underpaying him until the lawsuit was filed in 2004.

"I didn’t know anything about it until a friend of mine told me," he said.

Hanson said he doesn’t "have any idea" how much TRS owes him in back payments, but even as he lives comfortably in the Village at Deaton Creek, he is looking forward to getting a check for any amount.

"We could use it," he said. "Teachers don’t draw the biggest retirements in the world."



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