Retirement sweeteners eyed for teachers

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (WWLP) – Burlington High School math teacher Jeanne DeRosa offered a word problem of sorts to state lawmakers on Wednesday, making her case for a bill that would allow early retirement opportunities for certain educators.

DeRosa told the Public Service Committee that after the end of this school year, she’ll have five years of teaching to go before retirement. But, she said, over the past year and a half, “this time of pandemic teaching has felt like five years.”

“I spent my 27-year career building a repertoire of techniques to engage all students and to enrich the curriculum,” she said. “Where once I felt like an exemplary teacher, like a math rock star, the pandemic literally rocked my universe and I truly struggled.”

DeRosa said she’s finishing up a doctorate in education and hopes, post-retirement, to embark on a different career path by helping prepare future teachers. She said she doesn’t “know how I’m going to be able to continue teaching at this pace for five years.”

DeRosa was among a number of educators who logged on to the virtual hearing to voice support for a Massachusetts Teachers Association-backed bill (H 2620, S 1791) that would allow retirement-eligible teachers to purchase up to five years of service or age credit, or a combination of the two not to exceed 10 years, in order retire during the summer of 2022.

As written, the legislation filed by Rep. Carol Doherty and Sen. John Velis would have also applied to retirements from June 30, 2021 and Aug. 31, 2021, a time period that elapsed before the committee took up the bill.

Seventy other lawmakers have signed on to the House version of the bill, and 41 to the Senate version.

Doherty, a Taunton Democrat, said the bill responds to the health and safety issues brought on by the pandemic. She said there are teachers nearing retirement who are immunocompromised or have family members at high risk from the virus, leaving them “anxious and conflicted” as case numbers begin to rise again with remote teaching no longer an option.

Those teachers, she said, “only want the opportunity to retire with their health and their economic well-being intact.”

Individual school committees and municipal governments would need to vote to accept the provisions of the bill to offer it to their teachers, and it would also require the local governing bodies to “fill any vacancies created by exercise of rights under this act on or before the start of the subsequent school year.”

According to the MTA, the cost of purchasing the age or service credit would be determined by a Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission analysis.

MTA Vice President Max Page said the bill was “designed to prevent a significant negative impact on the security of the state’s pension system,” and that it gives the state and the employer the option to help offset credit-purchase costs.

“Our hope is that once passed, the legislation will become a model to extend similar incentives to all public employees, including public higher education employees and our education support professionals,” he said.

Rep. Ken Gordon, the committee’s House chair, said that one concern he had is that many teachers who might be interested in the early retirement opportunity “really don’t know what it will cost them to” participate in such a program.

“I don’t want a situation where the bill that they get is so close to the benefit increase that it’s a net wash,” the Bedford Democrat said.

Gordon also questioned whether there’d be a sufficient applicant pool across the different regions of the state to fill the vacant positions. Several teachers who testified indicated they didn’t think the workforce pipeline would be a problem.

“For the past 18 years I’ve been the chair of the English department at Framingham High, and I’ve hired three to six teachers each year and typically have 50 to 100 applicants for each position,” Will Cook told Gordon. “I can’t say that that would be true throughout the state, but I hope anecdotally that helps to address your very real concern about this backfilling that would have to take place.”

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