LANSING — State Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, has introduced Senate Bills 279 and 280, education reform measures to stop union lobbyists from misusing taxpayer money.

SB 279 closes a pension loophole Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook was exploiting to dramatically inflate his personal retirement payout from the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS).

MPSERS funds the retirement benefits for Michigan’s public school teachers and employees and is currently underfunded by $26 billion. The Michigan Education Association is a private organization.

In February, news reports emerged that Cook was the beneficiary of a deal between the Lansing School District and the Michigan Education Association to allow Cook to remain a member of the state’s pension system for school employees while working full-time as president of the private union.

Under the deal, the Lansing School District contributed $51,976 to MPSERS on behalf of Cook. The school district was then reimbursed by the Michigan Education Association. Cook was previously a paraprofessional for the school district.

Cook’s pension gaming will allow him to collect a much larger pension than he would have before he began professional release time from the Lansing School District.

“While Steve Cook’s gaming of MPSERS was not illegal, it certainly was unethical. Cook enriched himself at the expense of our teachers’ retirement,” Knollenberg said. “It’s time to close this loophole to make sure MPSERS benefits go to those intended — our public school teachers and employees.”

Knollenberg’s second bill, SB 280, will stop the practice of using taxpayer money that would have otherwise gone to teacher salaries and the classroom to pay for union lobbyists.

Knollenberg first introduced a version of this bill as a state representative in 2011 after he learned that 25 of the 28 school districts in Oakland County had either a full-time or part-time employee being paid with taxpayer money to perform union lobbying activities.

“Each dollar these school districts spend on union lobbyists is a dollar taken from classrooms,” said Knollenberg, vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “The last thing parents and taxpayers should have to worry about is whether money is being siphoned out of classrooms to pay for lobbyists.”

SB 279 has been assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee and SB 280 has been assigned to the Senate Commerce Committee.

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