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Ala. Answers Teacher Exodus As 1,000-Plus Prepare to Retire

Increased health-care costs led to departures

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More than 1,000 Alabama teachers are expected to retire on Dec. 1 to avoid the state's newly approved increase in health-insurance costs, but they could end up back in their classrooms through the end of the school year under a workaround devised by state officials.

State and school district leaders have been scrambling to find ways to avoid disrupting at least 2 percent of Alabama's classrooms with the midyear teacher changes. According to Marc Reynolds, the deputy director of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, 1,660 education employees met the paperwork deadline last week for a Dec. 1 retirement.

That looming problem led Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, to consider calling a special session of the legislature to address the causes and solutions. But with no agreement among lawmakers in sight, officials began looking for a nonlegislative solution to the teacher exodus.

They came up with this plan: Under the state's retirement rules, teachers could go ahead with plans to retire on the first of December, then become substitute teachers for the rest of that month. Then they could suspend their retirement and return to their classrooms on Jan. 1 on temporary teaching contracts that would run through the end of the school year.

Officials said the teachers could draw the same pay they did during the first part of the school year and resume drawing their retirement once the school year was over.

"They are technically retired, but they are not drawing a retirement check," said Eric Mackey, the executive director of the School Superintendents of Alabama.

Officials were unsure last week how many teachers might choose the options, but they hoped the number would be high to avoid loss of continuity in the classroom.

The health-insurance increase was one of several measures the Republican-controlled legislature pushed through in the spring to cope with a tight state budget. It raises the amount that many public employees will pay for retiree health insurance if they retire after Dec. 1. The increases apply to people who have worked the 25 years necessary to draw full retirement benefits but aren't yet 65 years old and eligible for Medicare. They also apply to people who retire at age 60 or later with fewer than 25 years of state service.

Vol. 31, Issue 11, Page 5

Published in Print: November 9, 2011, as Ala. Answers Teacher Exodus As 1,000-Plus Prepare to Retire
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