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Pennsylvania School Boards Association staff unique in qualifying for public pensions

| Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Although many workers covered by Pennsylvania's major public pension systems are not state employees, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association staff is unique among them.

The association represents the state's 500 local school boards and, among other things, advocates on their behalf in Harrisburg.

It is the only such interest group whose employees qualify for public pensions.

That is based on the authority of a decades-old legal opinion by the state Attorney General's Office that says the association is “an extension of local school districts and funded by them to provide information, training, publications, services and advocacy on their behalf.”

The opinion was issued “when PSBA hired its first full-time staff person” in the 1930s, association spokesman Steve Robinson said.

Staff members' salaries, benefits and employer's share of pension costs come mostly from local tax revenue paid by school districts in dues or for association services such as writing school policies or recruiting superintendents, Robinson said.

Seventy-two PSBA staff members were enrolled in the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System as of June 2012, out of more than 270,000 active members.

Elected school board members do not qualify for state pensions unless they are separately employed by a school district, said Jeff Clay, the system's executive director.

Employees of private companies that operate charter schools are eligible for the pension system because the schools are public by law, Clay said. All charters are required to offer pension programs, and unless they make alternate arrangements, their employees are enrolled in the system.

Pennsylvania's other public pension fund, the State Employees' Retirement System, includes more than 6,000 employees of Penn State University, which receives an annual state appropriation but is independently operated.

The state retirement code specifies that Penn State employees are state workers for the purpose of pensions.

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