Teachers file lawsuit over DeKalb retirement plan

Two DeKalb County educators have filed a lawsuit against the school district and board for failing to make contributions over the last two years to a district employee retirement fund.

Elaine Gold, who teaches gifted students at Evansdale Elementary and Amy Shaye, a school psychologist assigned to several schools, allege in the suit that the district broke its promise to employees when it ceased payment of county retirement benefits in July 2009.

The plan was established in 1979 as an additional benefit to educators and an alternative to social security. It is separate from the state retirement fund and is paid into individual employee accounts, tax sheltered until withdrawn. The contributions make up about 6 percent of each employee’s annual salary – about $20 million per year, according to attorneys who filed the suit and board members.

The lawsuit, filed last week, accuses the board of reneging on its commitment by freezing contributions and failing to give the two-year notice beforehand, as required by board policy.

“This is about keeping promises the board made to employees,” said attorney John Salter of the Barnes Law Group, who is representing the educators.

School board chairman Tom Bowen said the board did not act improperly and has the right to amend its own policies. According to the suit, the board voted to waive the two-year notice in 2010, a year after the contributions were halted.

Bowen added that the decision to suspend payment into the fund was not a secret – it was visible in public budget documents prior to taking effect.

“A board can waive or go against its own policy because the board is the policy-setting body," Bowen said. “The [retirement plan] is a discretionary employee benefit that is over and above the teacher retirement system. It’s an added benefit the district just could not afford having deficits to the extent of $100 million.”

The district is not expecting a deficit this year, but Bowen said he did not know yet whether contributions would resume.

The suit seeks repayment of past contributions and future payment until proper notice is given.

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