Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Dozens of Massachusetts educators citing health conditions and pandemic stressors advocated for an early retirement bill during a Wednesday virtual hearing, but costs both to the state and teachers themselves remain unclear.

Sandra Dearborn, who has been teaching at Masconomet Regional School District for 28 years, has a medical condition that requires an infusion of immunosuppressive drugs every six weeks, she shared before the Joint Committee on Public Service.

“I will be exposed to over 100 students every day in a combined approximately 600 square foot room with poor ventilation,” Dearborn said, adding that her job puts her in a very vulnerable spot amid the delta variant surge.

Dearborn and other teachers of retirement age who struggled to adapt to remote work during the pandemic or who are at high risk for coronavirus complications pushed for an early retirement bill that would allow educators to purchase years of service or age while also creating opportunities to usher in a new set of hires.

Jeanne DeRosa, a high school math teacher in Burlington, told the committee, “At the end of the school year, I’ll have five years left until retirement, and I honestly don’t know how I’m going to be able to continue teaching at this pace for five years. The pandemic is not over.”

Under the legislation, eligible teachers could retire early by purchasing up to five years of service or up to five years of age, or a combination of the two as long as it doesn’t exceed 10 years.

Local authorities such as school committees, town councils and mayors would need to vote to allow use of the act in their city or town, and also agree to backfill the positions so as not to create a teacher shortage.

Despite many strong testimonies in support for the bill, questions about the cost of early retirement still hung in the air, largely unanswered.

Rep. Ken Gordon, the committee’s House chair, said teachers who might be interested in the program “really don’t know what it will cost” to participate.

“I don’t want a situation where the bill that they get is so close to the benefit increase that it’s a net wash,” Gordon said.

The cost of purchasing service under the bill, which was pioneered by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, will be determined by an analysis from the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission, which has not yet been run.

Merrie Najimy, president of the MTA, said teachers are facing an impossible choice. “Put themselves or vulnerable family members at risk, or jeopardize a dignified and financially secure retirement that they have been counting on all of their career.”

The committee will accept testimony until Sept. 8 and then close out public comment and take the matter under consideration.

By senior