Districts prepare for wave of teacher retirements

Miami Valley school districts are expecting a wave of teacher retirements this year brought on by changes to the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio that became law in January.

Thirty school districts reported a combined 250 teacher retirements by March 8, compared to 297 for all of last school year, according to data the newspaper collected from those districts.

Several school leaders said they expect those numbers to climb in the next three months as the 2012-13 school year winds down. Pension changes that include new guidelines for cost-of-living adjustment for STRS and increasing member contributions give teachers an incentive to retire by July 1.

STRS spokeswoman Brenda Trittschuh said there have been 1,414 retirements from Aug. 1, 2012 through March 1, which is about 11 percent fewer than the previous year.

“It’s important to note that the majority of retirements occur at the end of the school year and it is still too early for us to indicate what those numbers will be for this year,” she said.

Locally, more than one-third of the districts that responded to the newspaper’s request for information indicated they are already above or tied with last year’s total number of teacher retirements.

Those districts include Centerville, Beavercreek, Dayton Public, Springfield, Springboro, Valley View, Brookville, New Lebanon, Cedar Cliff, Triad and West Liberty. Northmont and Xenia have tied it.

The pension changes are helping drive up the number of teachers retiring from Centerville City Schools, which leads with 30 as of March 20, eight more than the 2011-12 school year. Beavercreek City Schools and Dayton Public Schools each reported 24 teachers retiring, which are more than last year. Springfield City Schools has 22.

Springfield Superintendent David Estrop said his district expects more retirements across all employee groups. “If this occurs as expected, we will lose a tremendous amount of experience and institutional knowledge in a very short period,” he said. “However, unlike some school districts, we will be looking to fill the vacant positions created by retirements because Springfield is financially stable and, therefore, not facing the cutbacks and layoffs being faced by many other school districts.”

Dayton Education Association President David Romick said some eligible teachers are still exploring how the changes impact them and whether to retire.

“It ends up just being a matter of dollars and cents. People are being told if you choose to stay, it will cost you,” said Romick, whose union represents about 1,075 teachers.

Tim Pinkerton, a seventh-grade science teacher at Ferguson Middle School in Beavercreek, retired Feb. 28 after 35 years teaching at the school. The 56-year-old man said he loved his job but felt the time was right to retire mainly because of the pension system changes that would have impacted his take-home pay. “Financially, it was actually going to cost me money to keep teaching,” he said.

School leaders said a swell in retirements can be a big cost savings for their districts, but it also poses unique challenges in trying to fill the void created by the departures of so many experienced teachers.

“We are estimating approximately $1 million in savings via attrition at this time,” Dan Tarpey, director of Human Resources for Centerville City Schools, said regarding all employee retirements. Tarpey characterized it as a positive condition with regard to the budget. “However, these savings are very costly with respect to losing outstanding, experienced professional educators, a condition that makes our spring recruitment efforts very important,” he said.

In Miamisburg City Schools, Human Resources Director Steve Homan said they plan to replace the seven retiring teachers, three fewer than last year.

“We have some strong long-term sub teachers in the district that would be strong additions educationally to our staff to replace the years of experience we are losing,” he said.

Many school leaders said they have not adopted hiring policies regarding the experience level, or lack thereof, of new teachers. Others noted negotiated teacher contracts stipulate how the teachers are replaced and at what pay level.

Hamilton City Schools, however, has adopted a hiring policy for new teachers, placing those with previous experience at the second lowest of 18 steps, said Kathy Leist, the district’s assistant superintendent for Human Resources.

“In the last few years, we have lost years of experience, knowledge and wisdom,” she said. “However, our new hires, while they may not have the years of experience, bring many new skills that provide a different level of focus to the classroom. Due to our new policy, the staffing costs continue to be reduced in this area.”

Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Lori Ward said the district estimates 200 teacher retirements by the end of the 2013-14 school year (including those retiring this year.) The school board in February approved an agreement with the Teach for America to help fill some of those vacancies. The controversial program puts college grads into struggling schools for a two-year teaching commitment after only a five-week training course. The program came to Ohio after the state approved loosening educator licensing rules.

Ward said the district is exploring new avenues like this although it will also continue established partnerships with local universities to recruit highly qualified classroom teachers.

Next school year will be the first time Teach for America instructors will be in district classrooms, although some TFA teachers worked in local charter schools this year. Ward said the contract is for eight teachers, who would be licensed with undergraduate or graduate degrees in math or science.

“I am obligated as a superintendent to make sure we have a plan of recruiting and hiring teachers, being faced with a potential high number of retirees,” she said.

Romick said he “wasn’t thrilled about that but I certainly understand why they have to at look at it.”

“Teacher for America individuals do not go through traditional teacher training programs. They have what amounts to a summer crash course in education and are able, under the law, to get licensed in Ohio and teach,” Romick said. “That being said, it’s fine for highly educated, highly motivated individuals to go into education but their commitment to staying in those high-need districts is limited to two years. Most of them don’t stay beyond that two years, so this isn’t a long-term solution to staffing.”

Staff writer Jill Kelley contributed to this report.

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