Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

ALBANY — The politically influential teachers union has put its clout behind legislation that would give early retirement incentives to educators for both public school districts and state and community colleges.

New York State United Teachers, a union with which the United University Professions for SUNY faculty members is affiliated, is hoping the legislation is approved by both the Assembly and Senate before the legislative session closes in just six weeks.

According to the bill authored by Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Westchester County, the incentive would be temporarily open to employees who are at least 55 years of age and have at least 25 years of service. Currently, 30 years of service are required for employees in these positions to retire without penalty.

Longer-term savings

The legislation estimates the public cost for the sweetener to the employers of members of the state Teachers’ Retirement System to be $46.7 million.

“As part of our broader end-of-session agenda, we are advocating for legislation that would offer school districts the option of providing an early retirement incentive so longer serving school employees can choose whether to retire without penalty,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a statement.

Such an option, Pallotta added, “could present longer-term savings for school districts while also opening up positions for young education professionals to enter the workforce.”

To qualify for the incentive under Abinanti’s measure, qualified employees would have to retire in the “open” period running from June 30 to Sept. 11.

The number of employees who would take such an incentive could not be readily estimated, the legislation states.

While the measure’s legislative fate is also unclear, it is bound to trigger opposition from fiscal hawks.

E.J. McMahon, senior fellow with the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany think tank, branded the proposal “an enormous favor to teachers.”

“It’s a terrible idea after we have already vastly expanded the base of school expenses,” McMahon said. “The teachers already have a sweet enough deal compared to other retirees.”

Reducing costs

In the new state budget approved a month ago, lawmakers channeled $29.5 billion to support public schools, a $3 billion increase over the previous year. The spending plan included $1.5 billion in Foundation Aid.

Offering the retirement incentives could turn into a net gain for some school districts if they can replace veteran teachers with relatively high salaries with ones just entering the profession and can thus be hired at much lower salaries, said David Little, executive director of the Rural Schools Association of New York.

“When you can’t raise revenue, turning over some of your faculty is the only way you can reduce costs without losing people outright,” Little noted among the potential negative implications, though, are the challenges faced in finding teachers in rural regions as well as shedding highly experienced classroom veterans, Little said.

But he said he expects the association will endorse the proposal with the understanding that school districts won’t be required to opt into the program.

Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said his organization would support extending an early retirement incentive to employees as long as such a program is optional for the school districts.

One concern is a shortage of teachers in some regions, such as the North Country, Lowry said.

“Superintendents and school boards will have to make a decision based on all the circumstances,” he said.

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By senior