Menomonee Falls - Menomonee Falls School District will join a number of other Wisconsin school districts in taking legal action against the Wisconsin Educators Association Trust for withholding what the district claims is $267,000 in federal dollars it is owed.
According to Human Resource Director Christiane Standlee, the federal government subsidizes a portion of the district's Early Retiree Reimbursement Program, a program offered to staff through WEA Trust.
Last spring, WEA filed on behalf of Menomonee Falls and all of its member districts for those funds. Those funds were granted and according to Falls administrators, the district was informed it would receive those dollars in a credit toward the following year's payment for WEA Trust health insurance.
Menomonee Falls, however, left the WEA Trust as a health insurer when it signed new contract last May so any credit would no longer be usable by the district. It is the school district's position that the money should go back to the district.
WEA Trust has already filed for a declaratory judgment, asking the court to say the trust can keep that money. Menomonee Falls is one of 14 school districts named in the federal suit asserting that Falls is not owed these funds.
Menomonee Falls has different ideas.
"Before we could file (to get the money back), WEA filed (with the federal government) on our behalf, which precluded us from filing," Standlee asserted, meaning the district wasn't even given the opportunity to get back the money it had already paid for the retirement benefits.
Retirees should get funds
According to WEA Trust Representative Steve Lyons, that's not exactly how it works. Lyons says WEA files on behalf of its members, meaning the staff receiving the benefits. Menomonee Falls, as a district, could also file on behalf of its members.
Lyons said the trust made it clear to school districts that they were not eligible for the money if they made significant changes to benefits.
"We said 'it's not your money, frankly it's not our money,' " Lyons said, adding that school districts may be trying to use this money to fill budget gaps created by state cuts.
"This isn't the pot of gold that's going to help their situations."
It's WEA Trust's position that in order to meet the federal standards of what is known as the "maintenance of effort requirement," a district cannot increase employee contributions or reduce benefits. Since both occurred under the new contracts signed in May, WEA says Menomonee Falls is no longer eligible for the funds.
Lyons also wanted to stress that WEA Trust is not withholding funds to turn a profit, insisting all of the money will go those still using WEA Trust as an insurance and benefit provider.
"Every penny that we've received from this program has gone into a pot that's been distributed to retirees who participated, those members."
The district has contracted with Foley & Lardner to fight WEA and does so with the support of a number of other districts all facing the same issue. According to Standlee, Foley & Lardner told Menomonee Falls that if they don't win the suit, it won't be forced to pay at all, even fees and other time spent on the case. However, the law firm is owed about 40 percent of the judgment should the suit be successful.
Standlee said as many as 30 other schools plan to take legal action against WEA Trust.
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