2021
Total Retirement Offering (TRO)

Durham Public Schools

FINALIST
Kimberly Hager
Senior Executive Director of Human Resource Services
  • Plan(s)
    401(k); 403(b); 457(b); active DB plan
  • Total Plan Assets
    Not reported
  • Number of Participants
    5,200
  • Participation Rate
    13% overall average for the 3 DCs
  • Average Deferral Rate
    $252 monthly overall average for the 3 DCs
  • Default Deferral Rate
    Not reported
  • Default Investment
    Not reported
  • Automatic Enrollment
    No
  • Automatic Escalation
    No
  • Employer Contribution
    None to the 3 DCs, 6% to the DB
  • Provider(s)
    Recordkeeper: Prudential; Adviser: Verity Asset Management Inc.
  • Financial Wellness Educators(s)
    Verity Asset Management Inc.

Many teachers feel financially stressed, says Paul LeSieur, chief financial officer (CFO) of Durham Public Schools in Durham, North Carolina. Younger teachers just coming out of college frequently have student loan debt piled up, he says, while more-experienced teachers often feel unsure about how to save for both their children’s college education and their own retirement. Teachers are educators, and they need access to financial education that helps them also build a strong financial future personally, while they give so much to the education of their students and their students’ future, he says.

So in 2017, the district launched the “Take 10: Financial Fitness” program, to help its employees address their financial stressors. “It’s good to have discussions with them about how to manage those stressors, as well as save for retirement,” LeSieur says. “We have many employees who aren’t necessarily financially savvy, and we want to make sure we give them good information and tools, to help them understand their finances better.

The program uses The TIFIN Group’s myFinancialAnswers platform as the online base, and plan adviser Verity Asset Management Inc. collaborates with district officials on both program planning and doing educational sessions for employees. “Verity works with us to come up with a game plan for topics and develop communications for our employees, and it also does the education on-site,” LeSieur says.

The Take 10 program includes a “First Friday” monthly group meeting—virtual during the pandemic—that engages employees on a different topic at each session. Last summer, DPS hosted a five-part “Financial Fitness Bootcamp” on how to address a number of financial stress points, including student loan forgiveness, retirement income planning, budgeting and cash flow management, and investing in supplemental retirement plans.

In the fall, recognizing that new-hire initiatives and annual enrollment would both remain in the virtual environment, “We initiated customization of our Take 10: Financial Fitness online financial planning tool, to integrate existing benefits at DPS,” LeSieur says. “That way, new employees and current employees could access planning tools that direct to available benefits offerings.” At the close of the year, the sponsor pointed all of the employees back to the financial coaching sessions available through the Take 10: Financial Fitness offering. Additionally, participants may sign up for one-on-one meetings—currently virtual due to the pandemic—with Verity.

The Take 10 name speaks to the district’s goal of making sure the program does not seem daunting to employees, LeSieur says. “It’s a catchy phrase to get them engaged,” he says. “We don’t want people to think they have to take a long time to get involved in the program. Information overload is not a good thing, especially for educators.”

Durham Public Schools has an active defined benefit (DB) plan, which covers all full-time employees. That affects employees’ retirement readiness picture and financial wellness needs. “We know we have guaranteed income for life, if we’re vested in the DB plan after 10 years of employment here,” LeSieur says. “It makes retirement planning a whole lot easier, but there is still a gap between how much people want to have in retirement and what they will get from the DB plan.” That is where the 403(b) plan comes in, to help employees close the gap.

The State of North Carolina DB Plan has a 6% mandatory contribution rate and 6% mandatory employer match. The state also offers the supplemental NC 401(k) Plan. Plus, “Our part-time employees are eligible for our local 403(b) and local 457(b) plans, so participation rates vary dramatically across the different plan types,” LeSieur says.

The district has yet to collect data on usage of the financial wellness program, but the First Friday sessions generally draw about 100 participants. “Take 10 is an opportunity our employees can take advantage of, and I think it’s good for them,” says Kimberly Hager, senior executive director of human resource (HR) services. “This program is at their fingertips, [to be able] to access the material online and also have one-on-one meetings, and that’s huge. It’s really about helping our employees get a better financial education about how they’re spending money and how they’re taking care of their future.”

—Judy Ward

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