The spike in public school retirements eased somewhat, but the numbers are still higher than prior to passage of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education revamp, according to newly released statistics.
The number of kindergarten through 12th-grade employees in the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana who retired in the fiscal year ending June 30 stood at 2,979, the system reported. Seventy percent of those who retired had 20 years or more of service credit.
In the two prior fiscal years, there were 3,295 and 3,415 retirements, respectively. The 3,415 retirements came in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.
The number is still higher than the some 2,500 retirements that had been the norm in the two years before.
The retirement trend’s impact on the finances of the teachers pension system is undergoing analysis. TRSL communications director Lisa Honore said the system’s actuary is to issue a report in October.
State Superintendent of Education John White said economics is “the driving factor” as teachers, administrators and others make personal decisions on what’s best for the future for themselves and their families.
White provided unemployment and retirement rate charts over the last 10 years to demonstrate his point. The current retirement level — at about 2,950 — is about the average over the last 10 years.
“When the unemployment rate is high, people with jobs tend to stay in them. When the unemployment rate is low, people are more free to leave their jobs,” White said. “People can make up whatever theories they want to make up. The fact remains in every profession, retirement is primarily driven by economic factors. Across 50,000 teachers, this trend holds up.”
Some school officials tie the increase to Jindal-pushed education changes and their aftermath.
In 2012, the state adopted Jindal’s overhaul of public education policies, which, among other things, altered the way teachers are evaluated and made it harder to earn and keep a form of job security called tenure. Part of the teacher evaluation was tied to student performance.
Louisiana also embraced Common Core, national academic standards designed to pave the way for tougher math and English classes. Jindal initially supported it but now wants to remove Louisiana from the list of states implementing it.
“All the upheaval is a direct correlation to the reform package that continues to be litigated,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, referring to lawsuits challenging the policies.
“Many of these folks are still interested in working, but because of the anxiety that exists in K-12 right now, they are leaving,” Richard said. “That’s unfortunate. You are losing a lot of experience.”
In the last two years, school superintendents have said the retirements are putting a strain on parish school systems as veteran teachers leave the classroom. Some school systems, such as East Baton Rouge Parish, are going out of state to recruit.
Some systems also are declaring emergency situations to be able to advertise for retired teachers in high-need areas such as math and special education.
Teacher retirement eligibility requirements are: after 20 years of service, a teacher can retire at age 65; 25 years of service, at age 55; and 30 years, at any age with the highest benefit factor if they were a member before July 1, 1999. They can retire at a lower benefit level at age 60 with at least five years of service and at any age with 20 years.
There are other eligibility requirements for those hired after July 1, 1999.