LaDawn Druce asks Sen. Jesse Bjorkman a question during a town hall event on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

LaDawn Druce asks Sen. Jesse Bjorkman a question during a town hall event on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Opinion: Addressing Kenai Peninsula’s education and public safety employee shortage

Many of our best and brightest educators take a hard and close look at the teacher’s retirement system in Alaska early in their careers and are stunned

  • By LaDawn Druce
  • Friday, September 22, 2023 2:30am
  • Opinion

Students are the reason I became a professional educator. I spent my career working as a teacher and school counselor on the Kenai Peninsula. I have watched as public education has gone from a calling where professional educators competed for positions to work and raise their families on the Kenai Peninsula — to a “teacher tourism” job where early and late career educators come to Alaska for a few years of a big adventure.

Many of our best and brightest educators take a hard and close look at the teacher’s retirement system in Alaska early in their careers and are stunned. They are not earning Social Security, or any of the related disability benefits, and they are not earning a pension. If they look closely enough at the details they learn that if they are injured off the job, they could be completely destitute, unable to work, and no Social Security disability coverage.

According to an analysis by the State of Alaska, teachers who work a 30-year career with no Social Security only have a 31% chance of not running out of money in their retirement. All of this uncertainty and turnover has major costs too. A 2017 ISER study determined that it costs Alaska about $20,000 per teacher and $20 million per year in recruitment and retention costs.

It’s not just teachers and educators. This affects all public servants; state troopers, firefighters, paramedics, who go above and beyond to keep us safe. According to the Department of Public Safety, losing a single trained and certified Alaska State Trooper results in the loss of an estimated $190,000 the department invests upfront to recruit, train, and certify a trooper. In addition to the cost, it takes 12-18 months to recruit and fully train new troopers to backfill vacancies.

The weather is getting colder, as snow starts to fall we all need adequate DOT staffing to keep our roads plowed. For great schools and safe communities, we need to provide decent pay and benefits to our workforce.

I am writing to you today to urge you to join me in supporting Senate Bill 88, a common-sense proposal to restore pensions for public service in Alaska. This bill would allow Alaska public employees to earn a modest pension. Importantly, this is a modern update of the traditional pension that protects the state from unfunded liabilities. Additionally, employees have even more skin in the game to keep the system well-funded and solvent, even during market downturns.

I was there at the State Capitol in 2006 when under intense pressure from powerful, outside special interests we shuttered our pension systems. A selling point representatives and senators mentioned was the “portability” of the new system. My question was, “Why do we want to incentivize people leaving the state?” Many Alaskans may not know or remember that at the time the state’s pension fund balances were decimated by bad actuarial advice and malfeasance by Mercer, a consulting firm. Mercer ultimately paid a $500 million settlement to the state, but the damage was done. As a result, many public employees are now facing the prospect of working until they die.

Senate Bill 88, sponsored by Sen. Cathy Giessel, is a carefully crafted, common-sense solution to this problem. It would create a new retirement plan that is both affordable and sustainable. The plan would be funded by a combination of employee contributions, employer contributions, and investment income. It would offer employees a modest pension for a career in public service.

The Kenai Peninsula public is invited to learn more about Senate Bill 88 at the Alaska Public Pension Coalition town hall at the Soldotna Senior Center on Sept. 28 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

LaDawn Druce is president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association.

More in Opinion

Promise garden flowers are assembled for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Let’s keep momentum in the fight against Alzheimer’s

It’s time to reauthorize these bills to keep up our momentum in the fight to end Alzheimer’s and all other types of Dementia.

Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., questions Navy Adm. Lisa Franchetti during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 14 on Capitol Hill.
Opinion: Music to the ears of America’s adversaries

Russia and China have interest in seeing America’s democracy and standing in the world weakened

Dr. Sarah Spencer. (Photo by Maureen Todd and courtesy of Dr. Sarah Spencer)
Opinion: Alaskans needs better access to addiction treatment. Telehealth can help.

I have witnessed firsthand the struggles patients face in accessing addiction care

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski speaks on a range of subjects during an interview with the Juneau Empire in May 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Need for accounting and legislative oversight of the permanent fund

There is a growing threat to the permanent fund, and it is coming from the trustees themselves

(Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Imagine the cost of health and happiness if set by prescription drug companies

If you didn’t have heartburn before seeing the price, you will soon — and that requires another prescription

Mike Arnold testifies in opposition to the use of calcium chloride by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on Kenai Peninsula roads during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Peninsula Votes: Civic actions that carried weight

Watching an impressive display of testimony, going to an event, or one post, can help so many people learn about something they were not even aware of

The Kasilof River is seen from the Kasilof River Recreation Area, July 30, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Helicopter fishing a detriment to fish and fishers

Proposal would prohibit helicopter transport for anglers on southern peninsula

The cover of the October 2023 edition of Alaska Economic Trends magazine, a product of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. (Image via department website)
Dunleavy administration’s muzzling of teacher pay report is troubling

Alaska Economic Trends is recognized both in Alaska and nationally as an essential tool for understanding Alaska’s unique economy

Image via
5 tips for creating a culture of caring in our high schools

Our message: No matter what challenges you’re facing, we see you. We support you. And we’re here for you.

The Alaska State Capitol is photographed in Juneau, Alaska. (Clarise Larson/Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Vance’s bill misguided approach to Middle East crisis

In arguing for her legislation, Vance offers a simplistic, one-dimensional understanding of the conflict

A rainbow appears over downtown as residents check out rows of electric vehicles at Juneau’s EV & E-bike Roundup on Sept. 23. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: We should all pay more for the privilege of driving

Alaska has the lowest gas tax in the country

Opinion: Sports saves

ASAA has decided to take a vulnerable subgroup of these youth and reinforce that they are different and unwelcome