Teacher retirements spike

The number of teachers retiring jumped more than 25 percent as the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed an overhaul of public education that changes the rules on how teachers are evaluated, according to the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana.

The retirements are continuing at a higher than normal rate, according to statistics compiled by the system, also known as the TRSL.

“Superintendents are telling me they are seeing an increase ... even at midterm, people submitting resignations or indicating they are retiring at the end of the school year,” said Michael Faulk, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.

Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Pat Cooper said, “The teachers are telling us they just can’t deal with the pressure and instability and all the changes going on, what the new legislation calls for.”

“A lot of them are experienced teachers who have been with their systems for awhile who are retiring because of the uncertainty of the evaluation system,” said Faulk.

“Teachers in the classroom are working harder than they have ever worked under a lot more pressure and a lot more uncertainty that’s causing many to retire,” Faulk said. “They have been very productive teachers, been a vital part of our schools. They are now coming and saying, ‘We don’t want to do this anymore.’”

The number of retirements from public kindergarten through 12th-grade schools has hovered around 2,500 in recent years: 2,598 for the 2011 fiscal year; 2,512 during the previous fiscal year.

But for the 2012 fiscal year that ended June 30 — the most recent complete year — the number retiring from public systems jumped by 697 to 3,295, an increase of 26.8 percent in teacher retirements, according to TRSL statistics.

The pace is even higher for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1 and is almost halfway through, with 1,671 retirements charted by TRSL.

“This was not anticipated,” said Lisa Honore, TRSL communications director.

School superintendents say the retirements are putting a strain on school systems.

Livingston Parish School Superintendent John Watson said the parish has been able to find replacements so far. “If it continues like this, it is going to be quite a problem to fill positions,” said Watson.

Lafayette Parish Superintendent Cooper said the retirements are “absolutely” creating problems in having qualified, certified teachers in the classroom, “especially in the high-demand areas: math, science, special ed.”

“It certainly has had a negative effect,” said Cooper.

Superintendent Faulk, of Central, said schools may have to rely on people with alternative certification.

Millie Williams, who is the human resources director for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, said the parish has noticed a trend toward earlier retirements, especially by more experienced teachers.

“It’s dealing with, of course, the stress of the accountability plan and some people choosing not to work at their age, at this time, to learn the new strategies,” she said.

Williams said the school system anticipated the situation and is conducting additional job fairs. One was held in December; another last Thursday.

Faulk said colleges are producing fewer education graduates, which adds another factor to the equation.

The 2012 state Legislature, which met from March 12 to June 4, approved major changes in state education policy, including new rules making it harder to earn and keep a form of job security called tenure. The way teachers are evaluated was changed and will be linked to the growth of student performance.

About 55,000 public school teachers will undergo new evaluations this year, and those who fail to meet state standards may lose their jobs in a few years.

Teacher retirement eligibility requirements are: after 20 years of service, a teacher can retire at age 65; 25 years of service, at age 55; and 30 years, at any age with the highest benefit factor if they were a member before July 1, 1999.

They can retire at a lower benefit level at age 60 with at least five years of service and at any age with 20 years.

There are other eligibility requirements for those hired after July 1, 1999.

Faulk said a mix of teachers are retiring: “Those who are eligible for retirement. Those who are newer and didn’t realize the magnitude of what they are getting into.” And those with 12 to 14 years of experience, deciding they want to do something different, he said.

Tenure is not a threat to a teacher, said Faulk. “A good, efficient teacher does not worry about their job. Now, teachers are facing issues they may not have control over on which their performance will be judged,” he said.

The teacher evaluation changes related to tenure, plus a move to nationwide “common core” standards now being phased in, are contributing to the upheaval, parish public school officials said.

As many other states, Louisiana has adopted a plan implementing first-ever national academic standards designed to pave the way for tougher math and English classes.

They spell out grade-by-grade items that students need to know.

“It’s a lot to swallow,” said Michelle Blouin-Williams, chief human capital officer for the Jefferson Parish School System.

“Any shift or change in a model people have been used to. You can either ride to the next level or not. I’m talking about valuable employees and a lot of experience in what they have been doing.

“We have a lot of dedicated employees who are making decisions, making decisions this is it,” Blouin-Williams said.

Livingston Parish School Superintendent Watson said teachers have been through a number of changes through the years as education policy was altered at the state and national level.

“They have decided they don’t want to go through it again,” said Watson. “This was kind of the nudge.”