The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 25, 2002


New state law, large incentives prompt teacher retirements

Thirteen members of the Carlisle Public School faculty have declared their intention to retire during the next five years. If most do retire, Carlisle will experience a large loss in the ranks of its most experienced teachers. Why have so many decided to retire? (See list of potential retirees in the January 11 issue)

Carlisle School business manager Eileen Riley, school committee chair Suzanne Whitney Smith, and Carlisle teacher David Mayall explained the three independent factors which combined to cause the retirement "bubble." These are: the uneven age-distribution of the Carlisle faculty; the incentive for early retirement provided in Carlisle's own teacher contract; and the state's new RetirementPlus teacher pension plan. (The Jan. 11 article incorrectly called the early retirement incentive in the teachers' contract "state-mandated.")

Uneven age distribution

Like many towns in Massachusetts, Carlisle has a lot of teachers in their 50s or early 60s, and a good number in their 20s and 30s, but relatively few teachers are in their 40s. Proposition 2-1/2 was passed to control the growth of local real estate taxes at about the time that teachers in their 40s would have been beginning their careers. At the same time the economic climate may have discouraged people from entering the field of teaching. Carlisle is therefore due to face a jump in retirements. However, the new pension plan and Carlisle's early retirement incentive may have combined to encourage a large number of senior faculty to retire earlier than they would have otherwise.

Carlisle's longstanding incentives

Article XX of the Carlisle teachers contract states "the intent of this Early Retirement Article is to provide a financial incentive for a teacher to retire earlier than his/her sixty-fifth birthday. Such incentive should provide benefit for the teacher and long-term financial saving to the school." According to Mayall, Article XX has been part of the teachers contract since 1986, and during that time only one teacher ever used the early retirement option.

Details of the early retirement incentive are as follows: the program is available to any teacher who has been under contract with Carlisle for the past ten years, will be eligible to retire under Massachusetts Retirement Law, and will be between 55 and 63 at retirement. Teachers must give advance notice of their early retirement. The teachers then receive a bonus of 20 percent of their salary two years before they retire, and another bonus of 15 percent of their salary during their final year of work. Once the intent to retire is declared, a teacher may change his or her mind, providing all bonus payments are returned, with interest.

Whitney Smith felt that Article XX was not solely responsible for the surge in early-retirements, since it had been used so seldom until now. However, she said that if the early-retirement incentive turns out to have long-term effects on staffing, then it may be re-examined in the future. Carlisle is currently in the first year of a three-year teachers' contract.

New state pension plan

The third factor mentioned was RetirementPlus, a new pension plan enabled under Chapter 114 of the Acts of 2000 of the Massachusetts Legislature, and administered by the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement Board (not the Massachusetts Teachers Association.) A good web site for further information is: (As an aside, Massachusetts public teachers do not participate in the federal social security program.)

Basically, the new state pension plan gives more generous pension payments, though it requires higher payroll deductions prior to retirement. Teachers just starting out will automatically enter the RetirementPlus program, but other teachers had a one-time option to switch to RetirementPlus, with the election period ending on June 30, 2001. Under both pensions, teachers' benefits are calculated depending on years of service, age at retirement, and salary. Pension payments can rise as high as 80 percent of the salary. Under RetirementPlus, teachers' benefits are increased two percent for each year of service over 24 years. This will let teachers reach the maximum 80 percent figure about five years sooner.

One requirement of RetirementPlus is that teachers contribute 11 percent of their salaries to the pension fund for at least five years before retirement. Those who wish to retire during the first five years of the plan must declare their intent, and during the last year or two prior to retirement, they must make accelerated payments to compensate for the missing contributions.

Effects on Carlisle

Monetary cost and lost expertise are two possible effects of the large number of early teacher retirements. Figuring out the money saved by hiring lower-paid replacements versus the cost of the incentive program for the early retirees, Riley estimated it will cost the school about $40,000 spread over the next five years. This number may not include the cost to the town of 50 percent of the health insurance for retired teachers who continue with the health insurance plan.

Retirements rising at CCHS

Two retirements have been announced at Concord Carlisle High School (CCHS) for this year, and director of personnel Dick Sederstrom said typically there have been two or three per year. However, the number of announced retirements is rising, with five in 2003 and another five in 2004.

The age distribution of the high school teachers is uneven, similar to the distribution at the Carlisle Public School. CCHS teacher Al Powers cited the decline in student population between the "baby boom" and the "baby boomlet" generations as one cause for the lack of teachers in their 40s, since fewer new teachers were needed when the CCHS student population dropped from about 1800 in 1974 to a low of approximately 850. There are currently about 1200 students at CCHS.

CCHS also has an early retirement incentive, but with lower bonuses of 15 and 7 percent, respectively.

Teacher shortage

Sederstrom said there is also a lack of qualified teacher candidates in many fields, which will make it more difficult to hire replacements for the retiring teachers. While Massachusetts has plenty of elementary school teacher candidates, and an adequate supply in social studies and perhaps English, there are "virtually none" in physics, chemistry, math, or foreign languages.

Normally, teachers who retire cannot teach again in Massachusetts public schools. But if a town has a difficult time finding enough qualified teachers, the school district superintendent can now request a designation of "critical shortage" from the state commissioner of education. Under this designation, there are fewer restrictions on hiring retirees. However, those who retire with the RetirementPlus pension must wait two years before they can return to work as public teachers in Massachusetts.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito