Teachers retiring in high numbers

Teachers are continuing to retire at higher-than-usual numbers — more than 7,500 in the last two years.

The number of retirements in 2013 increased from the 24 percent increase last year.

“We are up about 1,000 from what we would normally see,” said Dana Vicknair, assistant director at Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana.

“These are people walking out the door. ... These people are actually gone.”

State Superintendent of Education John White said the exodus should be looked at as primarily a financial decision on the part of more veteran employees.

But school superintendents also said the decision has a lot to do with changes occurring in the classroom, including new teacher evaluations pushed by the Jindal administration, which one educator said created “a tipping point.”

White said there is not an increase in the number of people leaving the classroom.

“These are the more veteran employees who are leaving in higher numbers,” White said. “This is about retirement policies not just about education policies ... not just a classroom decision. People are doing what’s right for them and their families.”

White noted the increase in retirements began as administration pension policy changes impacting benefits and retirement age were being debated for state employees.

There are some 50,000 Louisiana public school teachers.

TRSL registered 3,871 retirements in the fiscal year ending June 30. Of those, 3,415 worked in kindergarten through 12th grade. The remainder are in the higher education arena.

Last year, when the 24 percent jump occurred, there were 3,295 public school employees out of 3,724 Teachers’ system retirements — more than 700 more than the prior year.

About two-thirds of the public school employees who opted to retire had worked 20 or more years.

Louisiana Association of School Superintendents President Patrice Pujol, of Ascension Parish, attributed the increases to the “Baby Boomer bubble” with people nearing retirement age, “coupled with additional demands and expectations” in the classroom.

She specifically mentioned new teacher evaluation practices and national common core standards that impose more rigorous classroom standards.

“People are seeing ... changes being made and thinking ‘Well, I’m past the point of retirement. Do I want to make these evolutionary changes?” Pujol said.

The 2012 Legislature 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 will be linked partly to student performance.

“For us this year has been particularly bad,” Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Pat Cooper said. “We have some very talented teachers who have left out of frustration and were lucky enough to have other options.”

“Twenty years as a teacher you are just getting into your prime. We are losing some high-quality teachers,” he said. “It’s just the pressure on these people and the swiftness that it’s all come about. ... It’s just created a tipping point for our teachers.”

St. Tammany Assistant Superintendent Pete Jabbia said he’s seeing mainly veteran teachers retiring.

“In 2011, we had 102 and in 2012 we had 129,” said Jabbia. There were 137 retirees in 2013 — not counting others who retired during the summer, he said.

“I think a lot of it has to do with what’s going on in public education today, probably in particular the evaluation that’s come down from the state department,” Jabbia said. “The veterans reached an age they could retire or work longer. They decided to retire.”

Ascension, St. Tammany and Lafayette school officials said they are not expecting problems filling vacancies.

Retirements have been running between 2,800 and 2,900 during the past 10 years, the Teachers System’s Vicknair said. The exception occurred the year after Hurricane Katrina, she said. That fiscal year there were 4,393 retirements, including 3,909 retirements in K-12, according to TRSL statistics.

The numbers rose 24 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, in the wake of legislative passage of Jindal’s education system revamps and talk of pension system changes.

In 2011, there were 2,994 retirements of which 2,581 were in K-12. Of them, 1,951 had 20 or more years with public schools.

The number of retirements jumped to 3,724 in the following year, of which 3,295 were in K-12. Of them, 2,468 had 20-plus years.

The new numbers show another jump to 3,871 retirements, 3,415 in public schools. Based on preliminary numbers 2,483 retirees had worked 20-plus years.