To help Michigan teacher shortage, lawmakers may ease retirement rules
- Lawmakers are trying to make it easier for retired public school employees to return to schools
- School districts say they need even more flexibility than what lawmakers are proposing
- Under current law, retirees must sit out for nine months before they can work in a school again and collect their pension at the same time
LANSING —When should someone who retired from the Michigan public schools be able to return to the classroom, football field or counselor’s office?
If they want to keep their pension and healthcare benefits, current law says they have to wait nine months.
But Democrats and Republicans are trying to make it easier for these people to come back sooner with House Bill 4752.
The bill would allow those in the state retirement system to return to work before nine months as long as they earn no more than $10,100 per calendar year. After the nine months, there wouldn’t be any income cap.
A substitute bill discussed by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday would raise the cap to $15,100 per calendar year.
Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, told committee members his bill would help retirees come back and work in several roles such as coaches, consultants that help with individualized education plans for special education students and paraprofessionals during that waiting period.
“By enabling them to make an income in that interim, (it) can enable them to stay involved in our schools, and … it's another way where we can attack this shortage,” he said.
From bus drivers to teachers to substitute teachers, superintendents across the state have reported not having enough people to staff their schools. Some districts have launched grow your own programs where they pay the education costs of paraprofessionals to become certified teachers but it takes time to complete training programs.
Lawmakers have approved several measures in recent years to help school districts with staffing concerns. They temporarily expanded who could be substitute teachers, reduced some barriers to allow retired employees back in schools and eased the barriers for getting out-of-state teachers credentialed to work in Michigan.
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They also approved funding for scholarships for college students who are learning to become teachers and providing stipends for student teachers who previously were unpaid as they worked alongside professional teachers in the classrooms. They have also funded specific teacher training programs from both the Detroit chapter of Teach for America and a group of intermediate school districts and university providers.
Koleszar’s bill passed 100-8 in the House earlier in June.
School district leaders say the bill could help bring back some support staff but is not enough to incentivize a retired teacher to come back to the classroom as district superintendents desperately try to find enough teachers. They are pushing for either a higher income cap or shorter sit-out period.
“This is out of a need for our kids and our families to have highly trained educators in front of them,” said Erik Edoff, president of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, a school group that represents 123 school districts in Southeast Michigan.
Edoff told Bridge Michigan he believes people look forward to retirement and don’t have a preconceived plan to come back to school.
But when superintendents are unable to fill a position and it gets to July, leaders want the option to be able to call a retired teacher and convince them to come back.
Retired teacher Ray Hill, testified in support of the bill Tuesday. He previously taught high school English and social studies in East Jackson Community Schools. He also coached golf.
“My preference is to work in education, to go back into the school system,” he said. He could find part-time work in other fields, he said, “but if I leave, I'm probably not going to go back into the schools.”
The K-12 Alliance and some other school groups are calling for the lawmakers to either raise the income cap or lessen the nine-month waiting period.
In Wayne County, across about 17 districts, there are 108 instructional vacancies and 302 non instructional vacancies, said Mike Latvis, senior executive director of legislative affairs of Wayne RESA, told the committee.
If the income cap (over parts of two calendar years) is $30,200 and a teacher works for nine months, that’s roughly $770 a week before taxes, or about $19.36 an hour.
Latvis said retired teachers are “not going to come back for wages that they could earn at Amazon or Starbucks, or McDonald's at $20 an hour.”
He said district leaders need the “all the flexibility to be able to bring people back” and at times, that is going to be “for varying degrees of financial compensation.”
There are at least some concerns with the concept of double dipping: where a person retires from public education but then comes back and draws state pension benefits and a district salary at the same time.
Sen. John Damoose, R-Harbor Springs, told Bridge he has some concerns about that practice, and for now, wants to see the Koleszar bill get passed at either the $10,100 or $15,100 cap.
“Right now, I just want to immediately fix the problem for coaches and part-time people coming back,” he said.
The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency’s bill analysis says the bill could lead to incentivizing some people to retire earlier than they otherwise would because they know they can draw a salary and pension benefits at the same time.
This would lead to increased costs to the state’s retirement system.
Koleszar said he is open to changes to the bill but it’s important to ensure the state’s Office of Retirement Services can assure the state would be complying with existing federal and state laws.
Anthony Estell, executive director of the Office of Retirement Services, testified Tuesday that he does not know exactly what the “tipping point or that dollar amount is” where someone chooses to retire earlier than initially planned.
“That's the risk if you continue to increase that dollar threshold,” he said. “And again, (it) becomes a policy decision in terms of whether that's a risk that the legislature is willing to take to offset … the critical shortages of educational staff in the field.”
Tom Kunse, Republican co-sponsor of the bill, told Bridge he is open to raising the income cap and or reducing the number of months and that it’s none of his business what a person does once they’ve earned their retirement.
“There is a teacher shortage,” he said. “I just don’t see why we should tell people you can go to work at Home Depot but you can’t go back to work in the classroom.”
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