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Friday, July 25, 2014

Smith named Retired Teacher of the Year

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

(Photo)
Buck Smith
SIKESTON -- Henry "Buck" Smith may have retired as a teacher from the Sikeston R-6 School District four years ago, but that doesn't mean he's no longer affiliated with education.

In fact, it's just the opposite.

In April, Smith was named the Outstanding Missouri Retired Teacher of the Year in the local district, and on May 9, he was nominated for the same honor at the regional level. Since his retirement in 1998, after 26 years as the computer technology teacher, Smith is actively involved in several projects, especially those pertaining to the future of Sikeston children and their teachers.

Smith feels passionately about the importance of maintaining a school system that always puts children first. It's this passion that is why Smith is one of 12 retired teachers nominated at the regional level for Retired Teacher of the Year.

Smith has hand-delivered 11,000 pieces of literature to every house in Sikeston for each school board election over the past four years. The task takes him about 21 twelve-hour days to fulfill, he said.

"When I become committed to a candidate, nothing stops me," Smith said. "I only support candidates who have character. I look to see if they're committed to the best interest of the child."

Smith is also the legislative representative for the Southeast Unit of the Missouri Retired Teacher's Association (MRTA), and he is working to bring about changes, especially for Social Security benefits and insurance of retired teachers.

"It seems that wherever I go, retired teachers ask about the unfaithfulness relating to Social Security benefits as they pertain to teachers included in the public school retirement system," Smith said.

Two separate issues Smith is currently working to repeal are those that arose during the mid-1980s: Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

"The Windfall act can reduce the amount that a Social Security recipient can draw by as much as 50 to 60 percent, and until after 1985, teachers were not permitted by law to contribute to Social Security," Smith explained. "So teachers worked two jobs--one at school and one part-time at nights and on weekends -- in order to qualify for Social Security."

Because of the WEP act, a retiree who is entitled to $1,000 a month in Social Security may receive only $400 or $500, even though that teacher met the full requirements for a $1000-benefit, Smith explained.

With the GPO, the law affects teacher retirees eligible to receive Social Security spousal benefits. Federal law requires an "offset" of approximately 66 percent of the value of the teacher's pension, Smith said.

Another concern for teachers, Smith said, is that 15 states have joined a consortium that doesn't tax teacher retirement benefits on the state income tax form. Some of these states include Florida, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi, but not Missouri.

Smith said he feels the 15 states realize that they have gained far more by drawing retirees to their state. "A number of retired teachers are leaving Missouri to go to states that have no state income taxes for teacher retirees," Smith stated. "Up until 1989, Missouri did not require retired teachers to pay state income taxes. This is an item of concern that our state legislature may need to assess on a break-down analysis."

Like most people, the rising cost of health insurance is also a problem for teachers. That's why this topic is one of great importance to Smith. Insurance is perhaps the most burning worry in the minds of retiring teachers because many of them, by law, were not allowed to contribute to Social Security, Smith said. All retiring teachers have is the good faith and word of past school boards that the insurance will always be available to them, he stated.

Currently, the Sikeston Public School System operates under a self-insured concept that has served retired teachers very well, Smith said. Smith said he feels certain that men and women of honor will always be elected to the school board and that their true character will prevail when considering the well being of retired teachers.

When a shooting death occurred close to Smith's home a couple of years ago, Smith wrote letters to the mayor of Sikeston, asking the City Council to increase city taxes to aid in more police protection.

"If kids had been outside when the shooting occurred, it would have been a disaster," Smith said. "Two or three robberies were occurring each week ... Something had to be done."

After receiving Smith's letter, the Sikeston Mayor Josh Bill responded, and along with the City Council, put forth a charter form of government proposal, Smith said.

Now, his concern is for the cohesive future of the Sikeston community. He explained: "We must not turn one against one another, rich against poor, educated against the uneducated, social class upon social class, church against church, race against race, political party against political party, or union against management.

"Rather, we must realize that we are all on the same ship -- called the 'Ship of Sikeston ' -- together," Smith continued. "And that if any one group hurts, we all hurt."

While the MRTA award won't officially be announced until September, it's obvious Smith has enough to keep busy during his waiting period. The former computer technology teacher is definitely a reminder to everyone that lessons never end, even after the teacher retires.