Wellesley Teacher Turns Retiree Activist

NOVEMBER 2005
- Taught In Mass & Vermont - For some, public service is a life-long commitment that continues
well into one's "retirement". Carol Stuart-Wenmark, a retired Wellesley
teacher, is one such individual.

After
beginning her career in Massachusetts in 1961 and spending 17 years
teaching in the town of Wellesley, Wenmark and her family returned to
her native Vermont.

The year was
1977, when the 41-year old teacher found herself beginning a new career
as a second grade teacher in Lunenburg. She went on to spend 21 years
teaching the children of the small northern Vermont town, until she
retired in 1998.

In 2000, the
reported population of Lunenburg was 1,328. Nestled on the Connecticut
River, just over the boarder from New Hampshire, the closest major
metropolitan area is Montreal, rather than Boston.

"My
husband is from Massachusetts and when we first married we chose to
live in the Boston area. After a while, we were drawn back to Vermont,
where I am originally from," said Wenmark. "While we loved
Massachusetts, there is just something about Northern New England that
is so appealing. It has been a great place to raise a family and call
home.

Being Involved

Upon
retiring from Lunenburg, Wenmark also officially retired from
Wellesley. When she left the town in 1977, she had deferred her
retirement until she reached "retirement age".

Instead
of passing the time by tending her flower and vegetable gardens, she
sought a way to remain civically involved in the community. The outlet
she found was to join and become involved in the Vermont Retired
Teachers Association, which has a similar mission to our Association.

Quickly
rising through the ranks, Wenmark served as VRTA president from
2000-2002 and was recently elected to a second stint as president for
2004-2006. She also had previously served as secretary of the
association.

Vermont has just over
10,000 active and some 4,300 retired public school teachers. Recent
reports site the pension system as having nearly $1.1 billion is assets.

In
recent years, a major effort has been put forth by the VRTA to equalize
their healthcare benefits with those of state retirees. The state
contributes a flat dollar amount towards a retired teacher's insurance
benefit, requiring the retiree to pay the remaining balance for their
coverage.

State retirees are
enrolled in a more robust plan, whereby the state contributes 80% of
the insurance premium. COLAs under both systems are based on the CPI,
capped at a maximum of 5%.

Impacted by WEP

Despite
the fact that Vermont is a dual retirement state, having both a
teacher's retirement plan along with Social Security, Carol Wenmark is
still subjected to the dreaded Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

In
Wenmark's case, the WEP is triggered by the fact that she is drawing a
pension from the Massachusetts, which is a non-Social Security state.
Even though she worked for and left the state prior to the WEP law
going into effect in 1985, she is impacted because she was not eligible
to retire then.

Since Vermont's
public employees do participate in Social Security, Wenmark was able to
obtain well in excess of forty quarters under Social Security. However,
even with 21 years of service in Vermont, she falls short of the thirty
years of "substantial earnings" required to be exempt from the WEP law.

"When
I first received the recruitment notice from the RSCMEA I was hesitant
to join, only because I was already an active member in the Vermont
Association. After looking into things a little further, it was obvious
that it is also a group that I should be involved in," explained
Wenmark. "It is very important that as retirees we support those
lobbying on our behalf."

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