Utah is facing a teacher shortage. Recent media stories and research has indicated that more than half of new teaching hires will leave the profession within five years. It is anticipated here that this will not drastically change in the not-so-distant future. Some positive things are afoot in regards to teacher compensation, but even with that said, the demands on teachers remain so large and destructive, that it is anticipated that the teacher shortage and turnover will remain at a critical level for years to come.
One legislative solution looks to remedy the situation by turning to recent retirees. There was a time that those that retired could actually reenter right back into the profession and even work to obtain a second pension while being paid their original pension they earned through their long and dedicated service. However, that changed a few years back when new legislation required teachers to sit out one complete calendar year. They could then land a teaching position, but they would not be able to work toward an additional pension. Also, it wasn’t that retired teachers had to wait to go back into teaching, they could not work at any other state position whether it be at a golf course, doing mosquito abatement, or as a driver education instructor within the state or school system. As novice teachers decided staying in the profession wasn’t worth it, the pool of retired teachers as potential hires also dried up a bit. Certainly, some waited that calendar year and then jumped back into what was the new version of “double dipping.” But a calendar year can be a long time, and then taking away any other possibility for state job employment on top of that, only aggravated the frustration many retirees felt.
Senate Bill 95 has bipartisan support. Its senate sponsor is Democrat Jani Iwamoto, while in the House Republican Steve Eliason is listed as the sponsor. This fact is encouraging. The bill also has the blessing of the Utah Retirement System (URS). What the bill basically does is reduce the waiting period from one calendar year to 60 days. It would require prospective employers (districts) to pay what amounts to an actuarial settlement to the URS. As the bill goes forward it will go understandable tweaking with what this percentage will be, and it won’t be an exact amount anyhow as it will vary for each retired teacher that is rehired. However, it is hoped that this bill does get passed. It is seen here as a huge win-win-win for districts, teachers, and most importantly, the students.
Veteran teachers have plenty to offer students and schools. And while they will make more money than a first-year teacher out of university, they won’t be making the same salary as they were when they retired. And under current rules, they would not be earning a second pension. The districts would be paying the tab so no additional monies would be coming out of the WPU (Weighted-Pupil Unit). The actuarial settlement is there to help lessen, or even eliminate entirely, any impact on the URS, though it is not sure here what the impact would be in the first place. However, trust for the URS, when its experts say some settlement is indeed needed, generally exists by the critical stakeholders. It is seen as positive that the settlement in the bill’s current form is taken on by the prospective employer (vs. the prospective employee), but this could change as the bill goes through its final permeations. Even if that did change to the prospective employee entirely, or shared between the two parties, the bill would still deserve support.
Allowing retired teachers to return to the classroom in a much easier way also sends a message that retired teachers are valued. They should be put on a higher list of desired potential hires than alternative licensure applicants and this bill sends that clear message. The vast, vast majority of retirees have put in 30 (or more) teaching years, and this successful experience should be valued. And sitting out (just) 60 days would be a significant, positive step and makes the potential pool of retiree applicants deeper and more immediate. Often times, those who have been forced to wait this calendar year have moved on to other line of work or even have left the state altogether to find teaching positions. This would allow districts to strike while the “iron is hot” so to speak to hire these recently retired teachers who will help address the teaching shortage. Most importantly these retired teachers coming back will bring incredible assets to the schools that hire them. Any bill that makes this easier for retired teachers to come back and for districts to look to this source to solve the teacher-shortage concernes deserves support from the larger teaching community.