Solution keeps retiring teachers in classrooms

Published 11:00 pm Monday, October 31, 2011

Local superintendents are optimistic that a statewide solution will allow them to keep retiring teachers in the classroom until the end of the school year.

According to the Associated Press, more than 1,000 teachers statewide are expected to retire Dec. 1 to avoid higher health insurance costs.

For Troy City Schools and Pike County Schools, approximately a dozen teachers are in that target group. And superintendents were scrambling during the past week to help educate teachers about the options available to them.

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“I just felt like we needed to help teachers and do what’s in the best interest of the kids,” said Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent at Pike County Schools. The district had sought an Attorney General’s ruling on the legality of several different options in dealing with teachers who would need to retire by Dec. 1 to avoid the higher insurance premiums effective in the upcoming year.

“However, the state came up with a solution,” Bazzell said.

Officials have been scrambling to find a way to avoid disrupting at least 2 percent of Alabama’s classrooms with midyear teacher changes. Some 1,200 education employees already have filed notice of plans to retire and that number could reach 2,000.

Because of changes in state law, teachers who have reached retirement age could face increasing health insurance premiums if they wait to retire in 2012, at the end of the school year. “It’s driven by a matrix,” said Mickey Daughtry, CFO of Troy City Schools. “We’ve encouraged the teachers who may be affected by this to sit down with the retirement counselors in Montgomery, who can talk with them specifically about their situation and what it means to them in terms of dollars.”

In some cases, he said, the change could mean $30 per month in additional insurance costs in retirement. In other cases the change could be higher.

However, under the state’s retirement rules, teachers can go ahead with plans to retire Dec. 1 and stay out of their classrooms for the month of December, which is a short month due to the Christmas and New Year’s holiday break. Then they can suspend their retirement and return to their classrooms Jan. 1 on temporary teaching contracts through the end of the school year.

Officials said the teachers can draw the same pay they did during the first part of the school year and resume drawing their retirement once the school year is over.

“They are technically retired, but they are not drawing a retirement check,” Erick Mackey, executive director of the School Superintendents of Alabama, told the Associated Press.

“These rules are for teachers only,” said Lee Hicks, superintendent of the Troy City Schools. “But we’ve encouraged our teachers who could be affected to go ahead and put in their retirement paperwork by Nov. 1, which is the cutoff. They can always withdraw it.”

Both Hicks and Bazzell said the solution offered by the state, with the added option of hiring the teachers during the month of December through independently contracted substitution services, provides the best continuity for students in the classrooms. “We want to avoid disrupting the students as much as possible,” Bazzell said.

Officials said there is also an option for the retiring teachers to return as part-time employees with limitations on their earnings.

The health insurance increase was one of several bills Alabama’s new Republican-controlled Legislature pushed through in the spring to cope with tight state budgets. It raises the amount that many public employees will pay for health insurance if they retired after Dec. 1. The increases apply to people who have worked the 25 years necessary to draw full retirement benefits but aren’t yet 65 years old and eligible for Medicare. They also apply to people who retire at age 60 or later with fewer than 25 years of state service. Any public employee wishing to retire Dec. 1 has to have the paperwork postmarked by Tuesday.