Former union leader Peterson remembered as courageous, visionary

ST. PAUL, Minn. Oct. 24, 2015 – Sandra Peterson, who helped guide the merger of Minnesota’s two largest teachers unions before moving into to a career in state politics, died Saturday while receiving hospice care. She was 79.

Peterson was a co-president of Education Minnesota at the union’s founding in 1998. A former president of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers, Peterson served in the highest office of Education Minnesota along with Judy Schaubach, former president of the Minnesota Education Association.

They were instrumental leaders in a long, difficult campaign to merge the two educators unions into one larger, stronger voice for professional educators and students. The merger was a pioneering effort nationally. They served together through a period of transition for the new union.

“Sandra was the kind of leader we all hope to be – kind, approachable, smart and firm when necessary,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “She was a courageous, visionary leader. She will be missed by those who knew her and remembered for her accomplishments as an educator and a union leader.”

According to Peterson’s family, the former union president passed at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer. The family released the following statement:

“She was dearly loved by so many, especially those who knew her best – her family and close friends. Our memories of her warmth and her smile will be cherished forever. Her life and work demonstrated how much she loved Minnesota – in particular, Minnesota’s children and families. She was dedicated to improving the lives of children in everything she did – from her work as a teacher, as an early childhood education advocate, as a union leader and in her final days as a board member of the Minnesota Children’s Museum. She made a profound difference on behalf of children and families across the state.”

In 2001, Peterson was elected vice president of Education Minnesota, serving until 2004, when she made her first campaign for the Minnesota House seat. She won that election and three subsequent ones, representing the northwest Twin Cities suburbs in District 45A and 45B.

She retired from the Minnesota House after serving four terms of bringing her professional expertise on education policy and finance to the Legislature.

Peterson came to union work while a teacher in Robbinsdale Public Schools, where she worked with K-12 students. She began teaching in Robbinsdale in 1970 after holding teaching jobs in Mounds View, Minn.; Palatine, Ill., and Minot, N.D.

Her union leadership spanned a tumultuous era for public employee unions and decades of accelerating change in public education.

Peterson said her love of teaching motivated her union leadership. “Oh, I love teaching,” she said in an interview when she retired from Education Minnesota. “I was fortunate to teach almost every grade level from K to 12. And the love of the profession is what has driven me through the years as a union leader.”

She served as president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers from 1976-1987.  Her union service in statewide office started as secretary of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers in 1985. In 1987, Peterson was elected as the first full-time president of MFT.

Peterson graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul with a bachelor of science degree.  She earned graduate licenses at the University of Minnesota.

Taken from Education Minnesota 27 October 2015

Sandy was an outstanding leader, a great teacher and a good friend. She will be missed. jcr


LCPR concludes October meetings

On Tuesday, the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR) met to hear testimony from representatives of commission actuary Deloitte Consulting, the Minnesota State Board of Investment (SBI) and the three statewide retirement systems.

Deloitte provided a review of the retirement plans’ actuarial reports from fiscal year 2014-15, a recommendation of funding policy change, and the implications of changing the investment return assumption. SBI Executive Director Mansco Perry gave an overview of the agency’s governance structure, asset allocation, and long-term investment return performance relative to national peers.

Dave Bergstrom, executive director of the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), Dave DeJonge, interim executive director of the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), and Laurie Hacking, executive director of the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA), presented information about the findings of the systems’ recent actuarial experience studies and recommendations for bringing the systems’ economic and demographic assumptions in line with member population experience. The pension plan directors discussed the cost impact of incorporating the new assumptions.

The directors were also asked to provide the commission with estimates of the actuarial impact of lowering the systems’ investment return assumption from 8 percent to 7.75 percent or 7.5 percent .

On Wednesday, the LCPR heard testimony from the principals of Epoch International, a New York firm invited by Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville) to discuss the idea of injecting a relatively small amount of “free” money into the pension funds by leveraging life insurance policies for MSRS, PERA and TRA retired members. These so-called LIFTs (Life Insurance Finance Trust) are insurance-linked securities that are being touted as a model for providing “funding relief to seriously underfunded pension plans and retiree plans,” according to Epoch.

An outside institutional investor would contribute the capital to pay annual insurance premiums. The insurance company, in turn, underwrites 2,000 “qualified lives” with expectations to invest the premiums profitably. The pension fund provides the 2,000 “qualified lives” and would receive an estimated $25 million up front, but must pay death benefits of between $10,000 and $15,000 to retirees’ survivors or estates. Epoch would receive a 5 percent fee. Epoch’s representatives said that the retirees would participate out of a sense of wanting to help the pension fund remain sustainable.

“By using life insurance on retiree lives the institutional investors, life insurance company and pension fund can all make money for their mutual benefit,” according to Epoch. 

Jill Schurtz, executive director of the St. Paul Teachers Retirement Fund Association (SPTRFA), testified and questioned the Epoch representatives about potential downside risks that would be taken on by the pension systems.

Check here for future LCPR meetings:

Courtesy MN TRA

Pension Awareness Week

The Minneapolis Committee of Thirteen: Advocating for your defined benefit pension system and educating for a secure retirement with dignity.

It’s autumn, the time of year we gear up for the legislative session in which public employee pension systems are mulled, debated and very often modified here in Minnesota. During the next few months, the Legislative Commission of Pensions and Retirement, the LCPR, a joint House and Senate committee, meets to hear about, discuss and shape legislation about TRA, MSRS, PERA and other Minnesota public employee pension systems. How much active teachers, principals, clerks, ESPs and other workers in state funded jobs contribute to their pension systems, and how much those who are retired from those jobs get in pension payments.
It is also the time we ask active teachers and principals to sign up for payroll deductions of $1, $2, $5 or whatever amount they can manage to help meet the costs of advocating for them at the LCPR meetings as well as in face to face meetings with Representatives and Senators from across the state. Contributions are also used to help fund to campaigns. It used to be that campaign contributions from political action committees, PACs, were limited to a few hundred dollars during the campaign year, 2016, and there was a limit on how many total dollars candidate could accept from PACs. Those limits have now doubled and contributions cover a two-year span, currently 2015-2016. Well funded opponents of public employee benefits, including your pension, will have no trouble meeting those new limits, but we may be able to keep up without your help.

Next week will kick off the Pension Awareness Week. When active Minneapolis Public School teachers and principals see the bright green and yellow wristbands in their buildings, they’ll know the Actives Campaign is underway. If you are wearing a Pension Awareness Day wristband, be prepared to explain it to your colleagues; you’ll know what to tell them by then because other materials will be sent out at the same time.

Raising awareness is the first step in standing up for our earned benefits. Sharing that awareness then strengthens us all. And that’s what the Committee of Thirteen is all about:
* Supporting your future security by protecting your defined benefit pension system, TRA and Social Security.
* Understanding how an investment in your pension system and other places assures your later years will be a reward for your working years, and not a purgatory suffered under the influence of greed and economic inequity.

Please be ready and do what you can.