By Tommy Young
Young gave this testimony to the Vermont House government operations committee.
My name is Tommy Young and I am a 24-year teacher with 22 of those years being here in Vermont. I'm a first- and second-grade teacher at Waitsfield Elementary School. Below is my testimony to the House Committee that is proposing a devastating change to a promise we were given as teachers. I ask that you take time to educate your friends, relatives and co-workers and contact your representatives and senators.
A promise is a declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that a particular thing will happen. I have been teaching for 24 years now and love my job. I earn a fair salary and have never complained about my compensation. Mostly because I truly enjoy what I do but also because I accepted the terms and chose to do the job. When I accepted my role, I promised to do my part and have never wavered. I have been acknowledged for my work on both a state and national level and feel I have the genuine respect of my peers because of my approach. When I make a promise and a commitment, I was always taught to do the best that I could do. To never make excuses and find a way to be successful. Last year, as the pandemic halted our typical school work, provided a challenge to this approach. However, instead of blaming technology or accepting a less enriching curriculum for my students, I continued to go to school every day (luckily, I had an exterior door to my room) and taught from my class. I met the required meetings times but also went beyond. I held 1:1 meetings for kids who needed more. I would meet parents outside to collect work and send new work to avoid having my first- and second-graders and their parents having to do everything electronically. At the end of the day I would spend an hour or so driving around town, using my own car and gas, bringing new work and collecting finished work at the homes of families who were afraid to come out. Again, things were left at a mailbox post to avoid contact. I did this not to be celebrated, not to be lauded on social media, but because I made a promise, a commitment.
I took my first Vermont teaching job in 1999. When I started, I was making around $22,000 a year. I wasn’t deterred by that and was able to assure myself that with hard work and a long career I would be able to support my family. The assurance of a pension (ranked 48th in the nation) would allow me to make less money than working in the private sector but have the means to continue to live here after my career is done. I took the terms and conditions of the pension that I was offered as a serious benefit. In 2010, I was approached about our pension. The state needs our help. The Legislature and governor have been irresponsible and our pension is in trouble. I am asked to give more money and work longer years in order to help get the fund back on track. Although I am reluctant, I understand and continue on with the new terms in place.
Now we are at this point. Since 2010, I have done my part. I paid my higher contributions, worked three jobs and kept telling myself all will be good in the end. During this time, our economy and investments have thrived and people’s retirement funds are booming. Well that is except for our pension fund. The Legislature has continued allowing our money to come in, have allowed us no say, allowed the money to be mismanaged and are now coming back to us. Your ask, pay more, get less, work 10-15 years longer, and to top it off pay a fee moving forward when earnings aren’t met. That is how you are telling us you will keep your promise.
CREATED A MESS
This comes down to the fact that our state’s bond rating will go below the B- rating it currently has. It means new initiatives and programs will not be able to be funded. This scares you. You know you and the people in your positions before you have created a mess. So, you now want to propose a plan that puts the burden squarely on us and quite frankly punishes us for your mistakes. I am just curious how you can stare at us, hear our testimony and still want to move this forward. This is how you keep the state’s commitment to us? I see a vast difference in my approach and our Legislature’s approach to keeping commitments.
This is not a problem we created. This is not a problem we have even had a chance to give input into as the years have gone by. This is a group of representatives putting forth a proposal with strictly punitive outcomes to people who had no say. No chance to invest differently, no chance to question 5% gains when the standard is easily 7% to 8% during this time. The fact that you are rushing this through without discussions, collaboration or even the thought of new ideas is astounding. It is also arrogant. You are part of the reason we are in this mess and haven't been able to fix it. Over a few weeks’ time though, you have figured it all out and have it fixed with a proposal that is ludicrous.
I ask you to table this. Be reflective leaders and admit your proposal is wrong, inadequate and will actually cost more to local budgets and taxpayers. Good leadership is reflective and admits mistakes, arrogant leaders assume their first shot must be right and needs no input. The time has come, what type of a leader are you?
Tommy Young lives in Duxbury and is a teacher at Waitsfield Elementary School.