Two of the state’s biggest elephants are fighting in Montgomery.
David Bronner, chief executive of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, has accused Henry Mabry, head of the Alabama Education Association, of trying to pack the Teachers’ Retirement System Board of Control with members loyal to the AEA.
Mabry denies it but has expressed concern that some board members have voted against teachers’ interests by passing along health care and other cost increases during years when teachers got no pay raises. When Mabry, who is on the board by virtue of his AEA position, introduced a resolution to prohibit health insurance co-pay increases and require the board to approve future increases, the debate was “contentious” and the resolution was narrowly defeated.
Mabry then used the AEA’s Alabama School Journal, a newsletter that goes out to nearly 100,000 members, to identify how board members voted and remind AEA membership that it elected the board and it could just as easily “un-elect them.”
This set off Bronner, who has never been shy when expressing his opinions and used the RSA newsletter to denounce what he called the “AEA director’s power play.”
If this disagreement is not resolved soon, no good can come from it.
There are those in state government who have been out for Bronner’s hide for quite some time and would love to find an ally at the head of the AEA. Unlikely as that may seem, stranger alliances have been forged on Goat Hill.
Unfortunately, no simple solutions are on the horizon.
Bronner has correctly pointed out that adjustments in the health-care plan are nothing new. With costs rising and the state Legislature reluctant to help offset the expense, the increase was deemed necessary. The fact that teachers paid less for their insurance than most private-sector employees meant there was little sympathy for keeping co-pays and premiums where they were.
Mabry also is correct when he says these increases amount to a pay cut for teachers. They do. However, by adding that he is “gravely concerned” over how returns on Retirement Systems investments have not done as well as systems in other states, the AEA head takes the debate beyond health-care costs and into investment strategy — an area where other Bronner critics have focused.
While these two elephants fight, the “grass” — the teachers, active and retired — are the ones who stand to lose the most.
Working together, these men and their respective agencies can do much good for the people they represent and for the state. Divided, they will accomplish little beyond energizing their critics and weakening their own positions.