Pension change pushes teachers to retire

GREENFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — School districts around Central Indiana have had to hire many more new educators this year than usual.

Take, for example, Greenfield Central Junior High. This year, the principal and nine of the 40 teachers are new to the school.

“A month ago, I wasn’t hired. I was unemployed still,” recalls new history teacher Katie Sangiorgio.

She is one of several young educators specifically taking on the task of taking over classes for veteran teachers who did not necessarily want to leave but decided to retire anyway.

Bill Murphy, one of the early retirees, choked up when 24-Hour News 8 asked if he wished he was still in the classroom.

“Absolutely I do,” he said.

Murphy taught for 34 1/2 years. And he still strolls the school’s hallways, but now as a guest.

“It was my decision to retire, but I was very sad about it,” he explains.

His departure was a matter of dollars and possibly good sense. The retiring teachers say a change to the statewide pension formula means many educators across the state stood to lose tens of thousands of dollars in retirement if they stayed on even a year longer.

“Corporation-wide, I think statewide, it was a large group of teachers who decided this was the year they needed to leave,” Greenfield Central Junior High Principal Dan Jack said.

24-Hour News 8 wanted to know more about how significant the impact has been, so we asked the Indiana Public Retirement System for numbers.

The response: the state expects 10,200 retirements from the Public Employees Retirement Fund (PERF) and the Teachers Retirement Fund (TRF) in the 2014 calendar year.

In 2013, there were 8,130 retirements. That represents about a 25.5% jump.

While there’s no way to tell exactly how many of those were driven by the pension change, it appears clear that the impact is dramatic.

Murphy finally decided just two weeks before the start of class. That gave Sangiorgio an opportunity, but it has been a scramble.

“Actually found out the night before teacher orientation that I got the job,” she said.

In this case, Sangiorgio is thrilled to get the opportunity, Jack is happy with the new hires, and even Murphy says he’s more grateful for the career he had than he is frustrated at the way it ended.

But all three also agree parts of this are tough for everyone – including the students.

“Especially students who had older brothers and sisters who had Mr. Murphy who were looking forward to hearing from him, because he is a great lecturer,” Jack said.

“Some are kind of disappointed that they didn’t have him this year, but it’s not a bad thing. It sounds like the kids and parents have high expectations for me, which I think is good,” Sangiorgio said.

“I want them to know that their new teacher is young and exciting and will do great things for them,’ Murphy said.

The situation in Greenfield is far from unique. 24-Hour News 8 spoke with administrators at several districts who also had to fill more vacancies than usual this year.

While none of the administrators said they were happy to lose veteran teachers, they did agree that the situation does help the bottom line: young teachers make far less money, so that will help a bit with the budget crunch most districts are under.

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