Signs of teacher, professor exodus aren't evident

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By WALTER C. JONES
Morris News Service
ATLANTA  — If teachers and professors eligible for retirement are planning to cash in before pensions drop 3 percent, they’re waiting until the last minute.
The decline ends a bonus after Jan. 1 designed to offset taxes that the income is no longer subject to.
State officials say they are not seeing a rise in teacher retirements despite predictions that a change in pension amounts would open floodgates.
According to figures the Georgia Teacher Retirement System provided Morris News Service, the trend is headed the opposite direction. Retirements peaked in the fiscal year ending June, 2011 at 7,168 and dropped 2 percent in the last fiscal year. So far, applications for retirement during the last four months of this calendar year, September through January, show a 32 percent decline, although more applications are possible.
“TRS is not anticipating a spike in retirements, but it is too early in the fiscal year to be certain,” said Alice Rafferty, executive assistant at TRS. “Additionally, we do not anticipate any trend changes in our retirement patterns.”
Still, people in the field predict veterans will hang up their rulers, chalk and red pens en masse.

“I’ve heard people talking, ‘Oh, everybody’s going to retire.’ Honestly, I haven’t been able to come up with a name,” said Deborah Simonds, a retired high-school teacher who serves on the TRS Board of Trustees.

One name she could have mentioned, if she had known, is that of Noel Feeney, an 18-year veteran at Grovetown High School who turns 66 next year. She has submitted her paperwork to retire at the end of November to meet the 30-day deadline between her last day on the job and her first pension check so she’ll be within the cutoff for the end of the 3-percent offset.

Although she feels disloyal to her students to quit mid-semester, she said the local superintendent who is in the same situation told her not to feel guilty.

"I have to start thinking about my own personal welfare,” she said, noting that Georgia teachers have gone years without a pay raise other than seniority increases and they have no collective bargaining rights like those in Chicago.

"I think that the legislators and the people responsible for passing this law, I don’t know what they were thinking about,” she said. “ ... They could have grandfathered people in until the end of the year."

Earlier this month, Harold Chambers, director of the Coastal Plain Regional Education Service Agency, told the state’s school-funding commission that the coming teacher shortage caused by the wave of retirements was a reason for the state to maintain appropriations to his agency and others like it.

Columbia County schools’ personnel director, Tony Wright, says four teachers have already filed to retire in November to take advantage of the deadline, and he expects as many as 10 total to do so.

Few educators seem willing to explain their thinking on this issue.

“Given the flurry of (job cuts) we've had over the past couple of years, not too many teachers are keen on speaking out in public,” said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

The state’s other major teacher organization, Georgia Educators Association, also failed to find any willing to go on the record.

Although teachers sign contracts with their local school districts for the whole academic year, legal action to prevent a mid-year retirement is uncommon.

TRS recommends teachers submit their paperwork for retirement two months in advance to ensure checks will be ready when work ends. That means in order to begin getting pension checks before the offset ends, educators have to retire Nov. 30 and submit their paperwork by Sept. 30.

As the two-month window for advance applications closes, educators may begin to step forward in greater numbers.

Note: Journalist Barry Paschal contributed to this story.



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