$5.55B Massachusetts pension could grow if fed-up teachers retire early

.55B Massachusetts pension could grow if fed-up teachers retire early

The state’s $5.55 billion annual pension bill could climb if fed-up teachers opt for early retirement under a bill backed by the union that would guard against mid-year defections.

It comes as states across the country report veteran educators are retiring while schools open amid coronavirus concerns. State officials reported 300,000 Bay State students reported to school Monday at 930 elementary schools. Boston was given a delay until April 26.

A Herald analysis of the latest pension payouts shows 26 teachers are paid more than $100,000 a year in retirement; another 85 earn $90,000 or more annually.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said “a lot of hard work is ahead” to make schools safe, make teachers comfortable and get kids learning.

“MTA members have been advocating for a bill that allows veteran educators in the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System to purchase a limited amount of ‘service’ or ‘age’ necessary to qualify for retirement benefits,” Najimy said in a statement.

The bill, she added, is designed to offer older teachers an incentive to retire before the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year begins to limit any disruption in the classroom.

Union members could purchase up to five years of service or up to five years of age, or a combination of the two not to exceed a total of 10 years. Local districts, the bill states, would have to pay “backfill obligations” to blunt the hit on the retirement system. Teachers at high risk of COVID-19 would also qualify.

The idea is to be prepared for any teacher retirements this summer and next summer.

The MTA is also seeking a “more diverse educator workforce” by backing alternatives to the tests would-be teachers must pass.

Latoya Gayle

Latoya Gayle, a Dorchester mother of three and a parent advocate, said Monday that having teachers retiring too early could backfire.

“We’re dealing with so much, an experienced teacher can see where a student is struggling fast,” Gayle said, adding newer teachers could also learn those skills from older mentors.

Jessica Tang, head of the Boston Teachers’ Union, said she’s seeing “a record number” of teachers attending retirement seminars.

“This year has been so incredibly challenging,” she added. “We’ve seen the vilification of teachers … and even mid-career teachers are rethinking their careers now.”

Reports of teachers quitting as the pandemic still threatens are popping up across the U.S. as kids return to classrooms — with Michigan reporting a 44% jump in mid-year retirements.

A recent poll showed working during the pandemic has made 38% of teachers consider changing jobs. Sixty-three percent reported feeling stressed and 54% had high levels of burnout or fatigue, stated the survey, which was done by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-Retirement Corp.

But Gayle, advocating for Black and indigenous parents of color, warned letting good teachers go early will only exacerbate this pandemic year of remote learning.

“It’s dangerous to lose all that experience, at a time when we’re all in a crisis.”

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