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WRS News Online Vol 2, No. 2 - May 2016

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Why are You in Public Service?

It's Public Service Recognition Week May 1-7. We salute you for all you do to serve others and make our communities strong. Please tell us why you’re in public service by completing this short survey. Thank you in advance for your participation. We invite you to continue the conversation about Public Service Recognition Week on Twitter, using #PSRW. And follow ETF!

group of workers

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Does SWIB's Investment Strategy Work?

by Michael Williamson, State of Wisconsin Investment Board Executive Director

Michael Williamson
Michael Williamson

After a rough end to 2015 for the financial markets, 2016 started off no better. Through the first quarter of the year, the markets continued to show extreme volatility. The rollercoaster ride early in 2016 reinforced the idea that we are indeed in a low-return environment in which there will be significant challenges to earning positive returns.

The first two months of 2016 also reinforced the importance of the investment strategy we have put in place. That strategy includes elements designed to help protect the trust funds from dramatic swings in the markets. The strategy is also designed to help stabilize annuity adjustments for retirees, and for active employees and employers, the effective rates and contribution rates. But is it working?

At the end of January, the Core Fund had a return of -2.7% and at the end of February the return was -2.5%. During those same months, many of the major indexes struggled far more than the Core Fund. For example, the S&P 500 had a return of -5.0% at the end of January and -5.1% at the end of February. The Russell 3000, an index that represents about 98% of the U.S. public stocks, was at -5.6% in January and -5.7% in February. The MCSI World ex U.S. Equities, a global stock index that excludes the U.S., finished January at -5.5% and February at -8.6%.

Trust fund returns will rarely match market returns. With the investment strategy we have in place, which focuses on risk and diversification, there will be a slight reduction in performance during strong stock markets. However, there is better protection for the funds when the markets are struggling. Sometimes our returns will trail when stocks are performing well and at other times they will finish ahead of falling stocks. That is what we saw in the first part of 2016. Obviously, there is a long way to go in 2016.

We expect the markets to remain extremely volatile. That is why we are constantly working to develop an asset allocation strategy that matches the changing investment environment. This is not the first time we have had to deal with stresses in the markets. But, just as we did through the previous changes to the markets, we will continue to adapt and do our best for the trust funds for you.

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Self Insurance Video

E-learning on Self-Insurance

Watch this new animated e-learning, Self-Insurance in 5 Minutes, to find out what is self-insurance and the next steps being taken by the Group Insurance Board, as it considers moving to a self-insured model for the group health insurance program in 2018.

Stay connected: Sign up for It’s Your Choice e-alerts on health and wellness benefits and related topics, via ETF E-mail Updates, and follow ETF on Twitter.

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Increased Internal Management Benefits WRS

Internal management of the trust funds by State of Wisconsin Investment Board staff has reached an all-time high; the end result has been a significant financial benefit to the Wisconsin Retirement System. SWIB has been building a stronger internal management program over the past several years. Approximately 64% of WRS assets are managed internally today, up from 25% in 2007. SWIB actively manages assets not only to earn more than the passive market indexes, but also to better manage risk and control costs.

SWIB's internal management initiative saves $57 million annually

The objective of our strategy for Core Fund investments: Earn returns comparable to the actuarial objective of 7.2% over the long term, but with less risk than the typical 60% equities/ 40% fixed income portfolio. Diversification is the primary tool for managing risk. Not all investment strategies that are used when diversifying can be passively managed. By actively managing assets and putting in place those diversification strategies, SWIB is working to stabilize returns, contribution rates and annuity adjustments.

The net annual savings from SWIB’s internal management initiative is $57 million, based on what it would cost to hire outside managers to invest SWIB’s public market portfolios. The savings exceeded SWIB’s 2015 operating budget, including all staff compensation costs, of $46.9 million.

“We have reduced our reliance on outside money managers, which has allowed for greater efficiency and effective cost control,” Michael Williamson, SWIB executive director, said. “We have adopted a cost management strategy that emphasizes using SWIB staff to manage assets whenever it is cost effective to do so.”

According to CEM Benchmarking, an independent provider of objective benchmarking for public pension plans, pension funds with more internal management typically perform better on a net return basis over the long term.

SWIB balances its use of internal active management with passive management. SWIB uses more passive management than other large public pension funds, according to CEM Benchmarking. In 2015, 47% of WRS funds were managed passively. Passive management is effective for earning market returns at a lower cost.

SWIB’s combination of active internal management and passive management has helped contribute an additional $1.2 billion to the trust fund above market returns over the past five years.

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What are SWIB’s Financial Benchmarks?

Financial benchmarks are important to the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. Benchmarks are the standard against which both returns and risks of a security, fund or investment manager can be measured. But how are benchmarks set, who reviews them and how often do they change? And what is SWIB’s goal when measuring performance against the benchmarks?

Comparing investment returns to a benchmark is a way to measure an investor’s performance. It answers the question, What value was added by the manager’s decisions?

SWIB’s Board of Trustees, with the help of an independent consultant, set the financial benchmarks used by SWIB to measure the performance of the Core and Variable Trust Funds, each asset class and individual portfolios. SWIB’s benchmarks are reviewed each year to ensure they are still the best measurement. Changes to the benchmark are applied to the next year. The most commonly used benchmarks are market indexes such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, or the Russell 2000. However, there are dozens of other market indexes that focus on specific industry sectors, security classes and other market segments. Because benchmarks and portfolios include similar investments, the performance for both will change with the market. As the year progresses, SWIB compares our year-to-date performance with the performance of the benchmark year-to-date.

Unfortunately, using an index that does not accurately reflect the types of investments is like comparing apples to oranges. The Core Fund includes a mixture of asset types, including domestic and international stocks, real estate and bonds. Because of its diversity, the Core Fund benchmark is mainly a composite of several market indexes, including the Russell 3000, a measure of the U.S. stock market as a whole, along with international indexes, bond indexes and measures for other asset classes. The all-stock Variable Fund includes the Russell 3000 and Morgan Stanley World Index ex-U.S., plus emerging markets, which reflects the mix of U.S. and international stocks.

SWIB’s goal is to exceed benchmarks adopted by trustees over the long term. Exceeding benchmarks has helped SWIB add an additional $1.2 billion to the trust funds. Exceeding the benchmark means portfolio managers’ decisions made more money for the funds than investing in a passive market index. A common mistake is to take a short-term view when judging the performance of investments against the benchmark. Benchmarks should be difficult enough to beat so that the staff is rewarded for performance that compares favorably to the markets. The benchmarks should not be so difficult they encourage excessive risk taking.

Generally, a majority of SWIB’s portfolios beat their benchmarks each year, although particular portfolios that beat their benchmarks tend to vary from year to year. This is an indication that benchmarks are appropriate.

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Know Your Benefits

Call center guy

Q: Can I add money to my WRS account?

A: Yes, you can make voluntary, after-tax “additional contributions” to your Wisconsin Retirement System account to supplement your WRS retirement benefits. Here’s why it’s a great idea to make additional contributions:

  • Your contributions are deposited into the Core and Variable (if applicable) Trust Funds and grow with interest. The Core effective rate this year is 6.4%. See the 30-year history of returns/rates/dividends and ETF’s projections for next year.
  • You pay no fees. Your additional contributions are part of your WRS account. The State of Wisconsin Investment Board manages the assets of the WRS trust funds.
  • You pay taxes only on the interest earned.
  • Your contributions stay in your account until you retire or terminate employment.

To learn more about how additional contributions can enhance your benefits, how and when to pay, maximum contribution amounts, distribution/annuity options, and more see the following:

Find all of our webinars, videos and e-learning presentations on the Member Education web page.

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Review Your Statement of Benefits

Statement of benefits image

Have you taken the time to review your Wisconsin Retirement System annual Statement of Benefits? The statement is a summary of your year-end retirement account information, including balances and your beneficiary designation information on file with ETF.
Overall, it’s an excellent time of year to review your financial situation and perhaps talk with an advisor about strategies for building a financially secure retirement. As an active WRS employee, you can grow your WRS retirement benefit by making additional contributions or purchase creditable service (if eligible). If your employer offers the Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program or a similar program, check into how these supplemental savings programs enhance your financial future.
Top 3 things to do with your WRS annual Statement of Benefits:

  1. Check your 2015 earnings and years of creditable service for accuracy. Contact your employer if you have concerns about reporting errors. Contact ETF for other questions.
  2. Check Section 3, your employee required contributions.
    • Note how much you contributed and how much your account balances changed with the effective rate of interest. These rates vary from year to year, depending on investment returns.
    • Did you know your employee required contributions balance is matched by your employer? Contributions paid by you and your employer (plus applicable effective rate interest) constitute your Money Purchase Balance. (See Section 9)
    • When you retire, ETF calculates your benefit estimate using both the formula calculation and the money purchase calculation. Your retirement benefit will be the higher of these two calculations, as explained in Section 10.
  3. Confirm your beneficiary designation is accurate. Remember, life events like divorce, marriage, and birth of a child do not automatically change your beneficiary on file with ETF. Find the WRS Beneficiary Designation form (ET-2320) on our website. Print the form and submit it to ETF.

For more information

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Effective Rates Applied to Your WRS Account

The effective rates of interest have been applied to Wisconsin Retirement System active employees’ WRS accounts. Find how the rates affected your account balances on your annual Statement of Benefits, distributed in April.

Both the effective rates and annuity adjustments, which are based on Core and Variable Trust Funds investment performance, are shown below:

 

Core Fund

Variable Fund

Net 2015 Calendar Year Investment Return

-0.4%

-1.2%

Effective Rate (applied to employees’ account balances)

6.4%

0.0%

Annuity Adjustment (applied to retirees’ monthly payments)

0.5%

-5.0%

What are ETF’s projections for rates and adjustments next year? All members – retirees and employees – should prepare for continued volatility and low returns in the investment markets. For retirees in particular, this may mean relatively flat or even negative Core annuity adjustments.

Projected WRS Core Effective Rates and Annuity Adjustments

 

2016 Core Fund Net Investment Return

Projected 2017 Core Effective Rate

Projected 2017 Core Annuity Adjustment

Scenario 1

7.2%

7.4% to 7.8%

1.2% to 1.6%

Scenario 2

0.0%

6.0% to 6.4%

0.0%

Scenario 3

-3.8%

5.2% to 5.6%

-0.5%

 

Note: Keep in mind these are projections. Actual rates will be available after final 2016 investment returns have been determined and an actuarial analysis is completed.

For more information

  • See Core Fund Annuity Adjustment Projections, a March 2016 presentation to the governing boards of the WRS. This presentation, updated annually by ETF, reviews a range of projected Core effective rates and annuity adjustments, using several Core investment return scenarios.
  • Sign up for our webinar, WRS Effective Rates and Annuity Adjustments. Sessions are filling up for May 5, May 10 and May 18.
  • Review this table, which shows the relationship between trust fund investment returns and effective rates and annuity adjustments since 1986.
  • Find all of our webinars, videos and e-learning presentations on the Member Education web page.

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It's Your Choice Dates and Focus Group

The Group Insurance Board has set October 17- November 11, 2016 as the 2017 It’s Your Choice open enrollment period.

IYC is the annual opportunity to change from one health plan to another, switch from single to family coverage or add/delete certain dependents. It is also the only open enrollment opportunity of the year for eligible state employees, participating local government employees, and retirees.

This year the open enrollment period is two weeks later than usual, due to a more efficient computer system for processing transactions (the state’s new STAR system). The shift will also provide more lead time for the Department of Employee Trust Funds to carry out communication plans and enhance training for participating employers statewide.

Focus group image

In the meantime, we will continue working to make improvements to the IYC web pages and printed materials, so members can easily find information. Many thanks to the employers, employees and retirees who participated in our marketing focus group in April and provided valuable feedback.

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Legislative Update

by Tarna Hunter, ETF Legislative Liaison

Tarna Hunter
Tarna Hunter

The Wisconsin Legislature has adjourned its 2015-2016 session. One significant piece of legislation affecting the Wisconsin Retirement System that was enacted is 2015 Act 174. The law provides municipalities interested in participating in the WRS the option to join and only enroll newly-hired employees, while allowing current employees to finish their careers under their existing retirement plans.

Specifically, the law:

  • Permits an employer to elect to participate in the WRS and choose to only enroll employees hired on or after the date that the employer elects to participate in the WRS. Employees hired before the date of election would not participate in the WRS.
  • Permits the municipal employer the option to offer current employees a one-time choice of becoming participating employees in the WRS. The law also provides that the employee shall make the election in writing on a form provided by ETF before the effective date that the employer becomes a participating employer.
  • Permits any municipal employer that elects to be included under the above provision to exclude its public utility employees.

The legislature also enacted 2015 Act 187, legislation proposed by the Department of Employee Trust Funds through the Law Revision Committee. The law made a number of remedial changes to the WRS the operation of ETF. The changes clarify current law or codify current practice. These technical changes may require minor modifications to procedures and forms for members and employers, but do not make substantive changes.

Some changes included in this legislation:

  • Clarifies the treatment and uses of moneys credited to memorandum accounts of WRS participants who suspend their annuities in order to return to covered employment.
  • Enables the ETF Secretary to require retirees to receive their benefit payments electronically.
  • Clarifies ETF’s Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) law to more closely mirror federal law.
  • Clarifies and distinguishes initial eligibility to receive an annuity and return to work requirements.
  • Eliminates a requirement under the WRS that an application for an annuity may not be filed more than 90 days before the employee’s anticipated termination date from employment.

Other WRS-related bills were introduced this session, but they were not passed by the full Legislature. Unless the bills are considered in a special or extraordinary session, they will need to be reintroduced next session if the Legislature intends to take action on them. We will continue to monitor developments and provide updates.

For More Information

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New! Government Relations Section on Web

Gov Relations image

The Department of Employee Trust Funds has launched its Government Relations web page, providing relevant and timely information for members, policymakers and other stakeholders on state and federal legislation that may affect the Wisconsin Retirement System.

Here is where you will find information on proposed state and federal legislation and laws that may affect ETF and WRS pension, insurance and other benefit programs administered by ETF. In addition, you will also find:

  • WRS fact sheets, studies and reports
  • Nonpartisan research on national trends in public employee benefits
  • WRS partners and other organizations, such as retiree advocacy groups and public retirement system associations
  • Current and past state budgets
  • State legislative agencies and resources

More ways to stay current on legislation being monitored by ETF:

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New! Well Wisconsin Wednesday Webinars

Wednesday Webinars

The Department of Employee Trust Funds has contracted with the StayFit Plan to provide a monthly series of free lunchtime webinars for the Well Wisconsin Program.
Well Wisconsin Wednesday Webinars are available to all employees participating in the State of Wisconsin Group Health Insurance Program. Webinars are offered on the third Wednesday of each month, run from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. and can be viewed on any computer or mobile device. Pre-registration is required.

The May 18 webinar, Health Technology, will help you sort through the abundance of available apps, games, websites and trackers to decide which of these technologies you should use for overall improved health and fitness.

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ETF Webinars and Other Learning Opportunities

No matter your retirement timeline – soon or not so soon – it’s important to fully understand your Wisconsin Retirement System benefits because smart decisions now will reap rewards later. Our resources will help you stay on track every step of the way.

Webinars – Live and Interactive
Webinars are conducted online by an ETF benefits specialist and focus on a single topic of interest. Participants are invited to ask questions and often benefit by listening to the discussion. Our webinars over the next several months will cover these important topics:

  • How trust fund investments affect your benefits and how effective rates are calculated
  • How to use our online calculator to request a retirement benefit estimate
  • How to enhance your benefit by making additional contributions
  • WRS annuity payment options
  • Choosing a retirement date
  • Five key steps to prepare for retirement
  • WRS employer and employee contribution rates

Webinars – Recorded
Many of our webinars and presentations have been recorded so you can access them on-demand, 24/7. See our Member Education web page for titles and links.

Group Retirement Appointments
Do you have your official WRS benefit estimate and want to talk to someone at ETF to more fully understand it? Consider attending one of our group retirement appointments. We design these sessions specifically for members who are within a year of retirement. An ETF benefits specialist provides an explanation of the estimate, WRS annuity options, the application process and answers questions. We just updated the summer and fall 2016 schedule – use our interactive map to find a group appointment scheduled in your area.

Public Presentations
ETF’s evening presentations, held in public buildings across the state, are designed for all WRS members, especially those who are within five years of retirement. Topics covered include WRS annuity options, return-to-work rules, post-retirement annuity adjustments, the Core and Variable Trust Funds, the importance of keeping a beneficiary form up to date, purchasing service before retirement, the difference between a joint survivor and a beneficiary, and how “life event” changes affect WRS retirement benefits. We will post the fall 2016 public presentation schedule soon. In the meantime, check our Member Education and Forms and Publications web pages for helpful resources.

How do I learn about ETF’s educational opportunities?

  • To find out about scheduled educational events, go to the Member Education web page.
  • Sign up for ETF E-mail Updates to receive immediate notification of upcoming educational events. Registration is free and fast – sign up with an email address.
  • Follow ETF on Twitter!

What participants are saying about ETF webinars:

“Your 30-minute webinars are a great, concise, quick way to learn...thank you!”
“The webinars all are inclusive on the details for WRS...this was a good presentation.”
“The information presented was very clear.  It was helpful to have the webinar cover a fairly narrowly defined topic so there was time to explain things.” 
“It was very clear. Answered a lot of questions I had. I left very well-informed.”
“Thank you for these webinars – the quality is great!"

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Video Explains Risk Reduction, Market Volatility

Michael Williamson Video

The State of Wisconsin Investment Board has implemented a strategy that is designed to add protection to the Wisconsin Retirement System and stabilize, as much as possible, investment returns and, in turn, contribution rates for active employees and their employers, and annuity adjustments for retirees. SWIB has put together a short video where Michael Williamson, SWIB executive director, explains the challenges facing SWIB and the WRS. Williamson explains the impact investment volatility can have on WRS participants, SWIB’s investment strategy, and other initiatives SWIB is implementing to protect trust fund investments. Watch the video.

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EMPOWER Earns Financial Literacy Honors

Shelly Schueller and Tarna Hunter
EMPOWER is coordinated by Tarna Hunter, ETF's legislative liaison (right), and Shelly Schueller, director of the WDC.


The EMPOWER campaign, which has been engaging and inspiring women to take charge of their own retirement financial planning and security, received a 2015 Governor’s Financial Literacy Award from the Governor's Council on Financial Literacy.

The Department of Employee Trust Funds partnered with the Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program and Affirmative Action Committees at more than a dozen Wisconsin state agencies to roll out the EMPOWER campaign a year ago.

With report after report concluding Americans overall have little to no retirement savings, why focus on women? "Because women are at the epicenter of the crisis," says Tarna Hunter, EMPOWER coordinator. "A woman's road to retirement is less financially secure and her post-retirement sources of income–including Social Security, private and public pensions, and personal retirement savings–are lower. Regardless of your age, financial situation or amount of time in the workforce, the reality is this: The sooner you start saving for your retirement, the better."
Other kudos for the EMPOWER campaign:

  • 2015 Innovator Award by Pensions & Investments Magazine
  • Wisconsin State Council on Affirmative Action 2015 Diversity Award

To learn more about the EMPOWER campaign and how you can improve personal budgeting, investing for women, simplifying money, saving money on a lower income, protecting against identify theft and much more, visit EMPOWER today.

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Private Debt Portfolio Program Expands

To take advantage of more investment opportunities, the State of Wisconsin Investment Board private debt program has expanded. The Board of Trustees recently approved guideline changes to the Wisconsin Private Debt Portfolio that expanded the investment region from Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan to include Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The guideline changes removed the percentage restrictions on investments in companies outside Wisconsin and transfer loans not made in the state into a new portfolio called the Non-Wisconsin Private Debt Portfolio. About 90% of the Wisconsin Private Debt Portfolio is invested in Badger State opportunities.

SWIB’s private debt portfolio started in the late 1960s and at one time had a national and global focus, before switching its attention to investments in the state in 1983. Since the start of the dedicated Wisconsin strategy, there have been about 200 transactions totaling $2 billion.

 

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Stein Appointed SWIB Board of Trustees Chair

David Stein
David Stein

David Stein has been appointed by Gov. Walker to serve as chairman of the Board of Trustees for the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. Stein, who had been serving as the board’s vice chair, replaces former chair Lon Roberts. Roberts stepped down from the board in February after being appointed by Gov. Walker to serve as Secretary of the Department of Financial Institutions.

Stein, a trustee since February 2014, is executive vice president and head of retail banking for Green Bay-based Associated Banc Corp, the largest bank holding company headquartered in Wisconsin. His term expires in May 2017.

Trustee Norman Cummings has been appointed by Gov. Walker to serve as vice chairman of the board. Cummings is director of administration for Waukesha County. Cummings has been a trustee since December 2011 and his term expires in May 2017.

To fill the vacancy left by the Roberts resignation, Gov. Walker appointed Timothy Sheehy to the board. Sheehy’s appointment was confirmed by the state Senate in March. Sheehy is president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. His term will expire in May 2017.The MMAC serves as an advocate for member businesses, which employ more than 300,000 people in the greater Milwaukee area. Prior to being named president in 1993, Sheehy served in various capacities with the association in governmental affairs and economic development. He currently serves on the board of two of the association’s subsidiaries, the Regional Center, LLC; the Milwaukee Development Corporation; as well as the MMAC board.

Sheehy worked as a legislative assistant to U.S. Representative F. James Sensenbrenner and is a past recipient of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Congressional Internship. He is a Ford Foundation Fellow on Regional Sustainable Development, a graduate of the Institute for Organizational Management, and a certified chamber of commerce executive. Sheehy is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin- Madison, with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

For more information about SWIB’s Board of Trustees, visit http://www.swib.state.wi.us.

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Teachers Retirement Board Election Results

Wisconsin Retirement System active teacher members elected the following individuals to serve on the Teachers Retirement Board:

David Stein
Chris Heller
David Stein
Allison Pratt
David Stein
Robin Starck
  • Chris Heller, Appleton Area School District
  • Allison Pratt, Onalaska School District
  • Robin Starck, Sheboygan School District and current member of the TR Board

The 13-member Teachers Retirement Board advises the Employee Trust Funds Board on retirement and other benefit matters. Learn more about the board, including membership, meeting dates, roles and responsibilities.

Watch the September edition of WRS News Online for details on the next TR Board election. The terms of two current teacher members expire in May 2017. Interested candidates may request nomination materials in September.

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Last Revised: May 2, 2016
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