Williams Unified to look at additional pension options

Williams Unified School District employees may soon be able to take better charge of their pension investments to ensure they will have enough money to live on after they retire.

District officials said at the school board’s regular meeting last Thursday that they may introduce their teachers, classified staff, and administrators to an investment plan that could help them maximize their retirement savings.

“Having gone through negotiations, I realized that we have to look at other options to help support our district staff, and not just through negotiations,” said Superintendent Edgar Lampkin. “There are other vehicles we can use to help support our staff so they can become smarter and learn how to make their money work for them.”

Erik NeVille, chief executive officer for Teacher’s Pension Consulting, said most school districts have options that go beyond standard government tax-sheltered annuity plans (403b), which Williams Unified only currently offers.

“We would like to bring those other options to the employees, both teachers as well as classified,” NeVille said. “We know there is a pension crisis, and it is on everyone’s mind.”
Williams Unified currently has just the 403b employee plan, administrated by Envoy, which is a voluntary investment plan in which employees do not pay income tax on allowable contributions until they begin making withdrawals, usually after they retire.

“What Williams doesn’t have, which we have been finding is a need or is requested by employees, is a 457,” NeVille said. “Most school districts have both a 403b and a 457. We would love to add a 457 to enhance these additional benefits.”

NeVille said a 457b is a deferred compensation plan in which the employer provides the plan and the employee defers compensation into it on a pre-tax basis. The 457 also does not have the 10 percent penalty for early withdrawal.

“An employee can quit the district and have full access to their money,” he said.

On top of adding a 457b plan, NeVille suggested the district could also add Roth options, in which employees pays income tax on contributions to the plan, but the distributions from the plan, if the requirements are met, would be tax free.

“Employees would not only get back all the contributions from the Roth tax free, but all the interest is tax free,” NeVille said.

NeVille said there would be no cost to the district to add the plan options, and employees could voluntarily participate.

NeVille said district employees would then have the opportunity through technology to educate themselves on the various retirement plan options, and take charge of and manage their retirement savings and investments.

“By having all those options, you will see participation go up,” NeVille told the board. “And really, at the end of the day, with the pension crisis and CalSTRS and CalPERS, we as districts and consultants want to see that participation go up. It benefits the employee, obviously, but it also benefits the district and relieves the burden on the taxpayer.”

Lampkin said as the district looks at state employee pension contributions going up in the future, it is important that the district and its staff look at all options available to them.
The school board could vote on adding the retirement plans at their school board meeting in August.