Meet the people who are running the teachers’ pension fund (into the ground)

I wrote about the (dire) state of public pensions a few weeks ago in the Star Tribune. A retired teacher wrote a letter disputing my assertion about the role that government unions like Education Minnesota play in setting pension policies. I heard from that very nice teacher again last night via email. Here is what he wrote:

I read with great interest your recent Strib article about public pensions, and actually wrote a letter to the editor about it.  And I’ll admit that I am a retired teacher, receiving my pension from the TRA.

One sentence in your article to which I took exception was “When funds hit a rough patch, unions look for a solution they can sell to members.”  As I explained in my letter, that is not my experience at all.  My union in no way runs the pension system, or tries to solve pension problems, or tries to “sell” us members on any given solution.

Here is what I sent to him in reply—I think the make-up of the TRA Board of Trustees speaks for itself—and anyone who does not think that the government unions are not only very much at the negotiating table (and on both sides of it) has not been an observer of how pension funding and pension benefits are arrived at in St. Paul.

Just as government is not competent to manage health care, government is not competent to manage other people’s retirement.

Here are the Trustees running the Teachers Retirement Association. Except for the Trustee from the Minnesota School Boards Association (I bet he has a hard time getting a word in edgewise), and maybe the guy from Ridgewater College, there is no light between the board and the teachers’ union, Education Minnesota. Even the guy from Ridgewater College says he is big defined benefit advocate.

And then there are the folks from the Dayton administration. Dayton said last night at the Business Partnership dinner that his legacy would be leaving Minnesota on a sound financial footing. Yet he has done NOTHING to address the pension deficit—it has grown by billions under his lack of leadership. I take that back—he did veto pension bills that the unions did not like.

How in the world would this TRA board get outside of the box of the defined benefit universe and find solutions to TRA’s fiscal crisis?

The executive director, Mr. Stoffel, ran the Duluth Teachers Fund into Lake Superior a few years ago. Instead of firing him, he was rewarded with a merger of the Duluth fund into TRA (courtesy of the state taxpayer). He was given a promotions, and is now the executive director of TRA. And he just announced at the pension commission last week that his fund is only 69% funded—and that is using really optimistic numbers that not even TRA thinks are reasonable anymore. The unfunded liability? At least $9 billion.

If you are a young teacher or in the middle of your career, I hope you are putting money away in a 403(b). If you are retired, think about how you can help the Center get the facts to teachers. How do we talk to teachers about this vital issue so they will think critically about what TRA tells them about the health of the fund—and educate themselves on how pensions work—and do not work.

Here is the TRA line up—judge for yourself:


Martha Lee (Marti) Zins, President Elected Trustee (Retiree)
17509 Saddlewood Lane, Minnetonka, MN 55345


Martha Lee (Marti) Zins, Board President and Elected Trustee (Retiree) of the Minnesota Teachers Retirement Association (TRA) was a media specialist, then media director for the Hopkins School District.  Marti was elected to her sixth term on the Board of Trustees in 2009. She is a past president of the Minnesota Education Association (MEA), and represented Minnesota teachers as a director of the National Education Association (NEA).  A TRA trustee since 1989, Zins serves the needs of Minnesota teachers with a special emphasis on the expansion of automated services that increase accessibility of information to members and retirees throughout the state.  She works to maintain the funding stability of TRA and of defined benefit public pension plans.
Term expires: June 30, 2021

Mary L. Broderick, Vice President
Elected Trustee
1003 – 31st Avenue N, St. Cloud, MN 56303

Mary Broderick, a teacher in St. Cloud since 1977, and president of the St. Cloud Education Association since 1996, was elected to her first four-year term as a member of the Board of Trustees in 2007. Mary also serves as president of the East Central Area Labor Council, sits on the Executive Board of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, and is a member of the Education Minnesota Council of Local Presidents. Mary is committed to helping retirees and active members increase their awareness, understanding, and involvement in pension issues, as well as working to maintain and improve teacher retirement benefits in Minnesota.
Term expires: June 30, 2019

Marshall Thompson
Elected Trustee
7421 W. Lake St.
St. Louis Park, MN 55426

Marshall Thompson, elected to the Board of Trustees in 2015, has been a math teacher within Osseo Area Schools since 2004 and currently serves in the role of Instructional Coach at both Osseo and Maple Grove Senior High Schools. He is Education Minnesota – Osseo’s lead negotiator, and has been on the bargaining team since 2010. He also currently serves on Education Minnesota’s Governing Board. Marshall is committed to raising awareness of the value of TRA for active members, working toward equitable benefits, and maintaining our strong pension system.
Term expires: June 30, 2019

Will Baumann
Elected Trustee
15104 County Road 5 NW
New London, MN  56273
(218) 639-2017

Will Baumann, elected to the Board of Trustees in 2017, has been a teacher at Ridgewater College since 2015. He is currently president of the Minnesota Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges. Will has always been a vocal proponent of defined benefit pensions. He believes TRA needs to continue to educate the public and the legislature about pensions.
Term expires: June 30, 2021

Mary B. Supple
Elected Trustee
7300 Oakland Ave, Richfield, MN 55423

Mary Supple is a sixth grade math teacher at Richfield Middle School. She currently serves as a negotiations team member for her local, Education Richfield. Past service has included the roles of local president, local governmental relations chair, member of the Education Minnesota Governing Board as well as the Political Action Committee, and member of the NEA Board of Directors. She is also currently involved with the Richfield League of Women Voters. Mary believes that all members of TRA, both active and retired, should have a voice and will work toward a goal of a stable, equitable pension system for all.
Term expires: June 30, 2021

Kirk Schneidawind
Statutory Member
MN School Boards Association Representative (MSBA)
1900 W. Jefferson Ave.
St. Peter, MN 56082
507.934.2450 or 800.324.4459

Kirk Schneidawind has served as the executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) since July 2013. Kirk joined MSBA in 1999, working in governmental relations and policy development. Kirk is also the secretary of the Minnesota School District Liquid Asset Fund Plus and the secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota School Boards Association Insurance Trust. He serves on the Minnesota Government Relations Council Board of Directors and several other state committees. Kirk received his bachelor’s degree in history at Iowa State University, and his master’s degree and school superintendent licensure from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Myron Frans, Commissioner
Minnesota Management & Budget
Statutory Member
651.201.8011Minnesota Management & Budget
400 Centennial Building
658 Cedar Street
St. Paul, MN 55155Visit the Minnesota Management & Budget website.



Brenda Cassellius, Commissioner
Department of Education
Statutory Member of Education
1500 Hwy 36 West
Roseville, MN 55113-4266Visit the Department of Education website.