Former National Education Association – Shawnee Mission president Nancy Fritz has prevailed in her effort to get the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS) to give her service credit for the time she spent leading the teachers union.
Fritz, a librarian who had worked for the district for 27 years when she took the NEA president position, filed suit against KPERS last fall after the retirement system informed her that it would not be counting the five years she spent as head of the union toward her retirement account. During that time, KPERS claimed, Fritz was no longer an employee of the district, but of the union. Cutting the five years she spent at NEA president from her service credit with KPERS reduced her monthly retirement benefits by nearly $800 per month.
However, Fritz was making contributions to KPERS during her time as the union leader, and had professional contracts that labeled her a district employee during that period as well. District policy allows for an employee to take a leave of absence from the classroom to fill other district duties — in this case, maintaining relations between the district and its teacher employees — for up to six years while continuing to accrue service credit.
“The petitioner was on a leave of absence from her position; however, this is not dispositive of all opportunities to earn KPERS service credit,” reads the order issued in Shawnee County District Court last week.
Judge Evelyn Wilson directed KPERS to restore Fritz’s service credits for the five years in question, and to “reimburse the Petitioner in the amount of any funds which were unlawfully withheld since the time Petitioner was eligible to receive benefits.”
KPERS has 30 days from the issuance of the order August 9 to appeal the judge’s ruling. Fritz declined to comment on the ruling until the 30 day window had expired. Fritz’s case was the first of several similar cases involving public school district teachers union representatives to be decided. Cases regarding similar claims by union leaders from Olathe, Blue Valley and other districts are still pending.
KPERS has faced major financial pressures in recent years, with system leaders warning of several billion dollars in unfunded liabilities.
The full order from Judge Wilson is embedded below: