Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Teachers' Early Retirement Awaits Carnahan's Decision

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Teachers' Early Retirement Awaits Carnahan's Decision

Article excerpt

Retirement as early as age 47 could be an option for some public school teachers under a bill on Gov. Mel Carnahan's desk.

The bill would allow teachers to draw half their salary as a pension after 25 years of service, regardless of age. Under current law, school retirees must be at least 55 or have 30 years of service.

The bill's backers say that teaching has become more stressful in recent decades and that some veterans want out. They say teachers get less respect, face more violence in the classroom and are overwhelmed with paperwork.

"There are a lot of problems that teachers 10 or 15 years ago didn't worry about," says Alice Lemp, an English teacher at Francis Howell North High School. "Some people, after 25 years, are just burned out."

Opponents say taxpayers shouldn't have to support young retirees while they start second careers.

"We're doing the wrong thing," says Sen. Wayne Goode, D-Normandy. "Taxpayers are finding it more and more difficult to retire. Those are the folks who've got to pay" for public sector retirees.

The Senate approved the bill, 26-6, on May 10. In the House the next day, the final tally was 160-0.

Carnahan's staff says he hasn't decided if he'll sign the bill. Besides the early retirement option, the bill increases benefits for teachers who are already retired and draw less than $24,000 a year. School staff members, such as cooks and secretaries, also would get increased benefits when they retire.

***** Who Pays?

The Public School Retirement System is funded by contributions from school districts and teachers. Beginning July 1, each district will pay 10.5 percent of its payroll, a half-percent increase unrelated to this year's legislation. Covered employees pay a like percentage of their paychecks.

The bill promises benefits that the system doesn't have money for yet. That gap - between future pension costs and money available to pay them - is called the unfunded liability. It would go up by $218 million, says Steve Yoakum, executive secretary of the Public School Retirement System. Part of that estimate is based on 15 to 17 percent of those eligible taking early retirement. …

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