In a turnaround since Tuesday, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted Wednesday to delay action on a study of Louisiana’s $12 billion teachers’ retirement debt.
A $143,000 contract to do the review cleared a BESE committee on Tuesday 8-2.
But final approval was delayed Wednesday at least until the board’s March meeting, and maybe for good, amid concerns by state House Retirement Committee Chairman Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell.
Pearson, who attended the meeting, said in an interview that an independent study was done on the same issue in 2010 and that the legislative auditor does annual updates on the state’s retirement systems.
“To me you are wasting money,” Pearson said. “I mean there is no point in doing this.”
BESE President Chas Roemer, who backed the contract initially, said after the meeting that he made the motion to delay final action because of Pearson’s concerns.
“It is his committee ultimately so we deferred to him and said we would be glad to meet and make sure we are on the same page or trying to get on the same page,” Roemer said.
The $12 billion debt is the largest of four state retirement systems.
Contract backers said that, because of the debt in the system, nearly one third of state aid for public schools is directed to retirement costs.
State Superintendent of Education John White and other supporters of the contract argued that the study, which would be done by LSU, would allow unbiased experts to spend a year delving into the topic.
They also were supposed to assist a task force of educators who are grappling with the issue.
Pearson disputed some of that.
He noted that LSU is part of the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana and that its review would rely on economists, not actuaries.
“This is actuarial science and it is not so much economics,” the lawmaker said.
TRSL officials were described as puzzled on reasons for the study.
Teacher unions and the Louisiana School Boards Association also opposed the contract.
Pearson said improvements have been made in recent years through legislation and other steps.
“Why is the retirement system costing us so much? It is because you have this huge unfunded liability for the last 50 years,” he said. “No matter what, you are still going to pay that.”