The California Charter Schools Association, seeking an explanation of the new policy, received about 9,000 CalPERS documents last month after filing a lawsuit to force compliance with the public records act.
The association said the California Public Employees Retirement System is the only public pension system in the nation to deny membership on the basis of an IRS rule, proposed in 2011, that may still be several years away from final adoption.
In contrast, said the association, the California State Teachers Retirement System obtained an IRS opinion saying charter school teachers are eligible for CalSTRS, which has not denied any memberships due to the pending IRS rule.
A CalPERS staff report in December said the new policy reflects the long-term goal of “sustainability,” risk reduction and IRS guidance and compliance. While nine charter schools were denied, said the report, five charter schools were accepted.
Charter schools, a variety of government-funded alternatives to traditional schools, often have no labor unions. The CalPERS board, dominated by employee-elected members and their allies, has used shareholder clout and other policies to aid unions.
The charter association did not accuse CalPERS of denying membership to aid unionization. Instead, charter advocates reportedly are worried that the new CalPERS policy seems to be aimed at excluding privately controlled charter schools.
Some charter schools are conversions from public schools, and the employees typically remain in the public pension systems. Two-thirds of the 1,130 California charter schools are independently incorporated, most with their employees in CalPERS.
“If CalPERS starts changing its policy and making their members ineligible, we are talking about thousands and thousands of employees,” Myrna Castrejon, the charter association senior vice president of government affairs, said last week.
A charter school can meet requirements by offering a 401(k)-style individual investment retirement plan. But most are said to want to offer public pensions to help recruit and retain top talent.
“It’s folly not to (offer a public pension),” said Castrejon. “It’s a huge competitive disadvantage in California not to.”
In December, Castrejon urged the CalPERS board to return to its prior policy of admitting all charter schools. She ...