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State Reps. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, left, and Brad Buckley, R-Salado, chat during an appreciation event hosted by the Bell County Retired School Employees Association for Bell County’s legislators — Reps. Hugh Shine and Brad Buckley as well as Sen. Dawn Buckingham — for improving the Teacher Retirement System at Grace Presbyterian Church in Temple on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. Michael Miller/Telegram

The Bell County Retired School Employees Association recognized three local legislators Thursday for their efforts to improve the Teacher Retirement System.

The group gave apple-shaped trophies to state Sen. Dawn Buckingham as well as state Reps. Hugh Shine of Temple and Brad Buckley of Salado during an event at Grace Presbyterian Church, 2401 S. 57th St.

“Believe me, we need to honor them. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful legislative year,” association member Joyce Novak said. “We are indebted to them.”

Earlier this year, the Legislature called for an increase in how much the state, school districts and current teachers contribute to the Teacher Retirement System pension fund.

Under Senate Bill 12, lawmakers used $1.1 billion from the state’s savings account to bolster the pension fund, the Texas Tribune reported. These changes will give retired teachers a one-time check — called the 13th check — of $2,000.

“Who is excited about the 13th check?” Buckingham, a Lakeway Republican, asked the audience, which cheered back. “For the first time in any memory that I know of, we’re on the way to getting to ensure that your pension fund is actuarily sound.”

On top of that, Buckingham, a former Lake Travis school board member, pointed to lawmakers’ work to reform public school finance. The Legislature, through House Bill 3, injected $6.5 billion into public education funding and used $5.1 billion to lower school district tax rates.

Buckley — a Salado Republican and former Killeen school board member — said it was an honor to be recognized for his work on education.

“There’s been no bigger honor to serve in the Legislature and supporting education and retired teachers,” Buckley said, explaining that he comes from a family with many educators.

Betty Anderson, a member of the local retired school employees association, brought up Shine’s history in education. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush appointed Shine, a Temple Republican, to education advisory councils in the late 1980s, she said.

“We do thank him for his part in getting that 13th paycheck,” Anderson said.

The Legislature, Shine said, still has more work to shore up the Teacher Retirement System and other parts of public education.

“What we did this past session was important — but it’s a journey, not a destination. We have a lot more work to do on sustainment for what we did,” Shine said, adding that lawmakers need to tackle health care for current and retired teachers during the 2021 legislative session.