Some area school workers may have to start paying into Social Security after federal decision

Sunday, November 16, 2008

School districts are grappling with a decision that would require certain school employees to begin paying into Social Security.

Local superintendents said the decision is a cause of concern, as employees worry about larger monthly withholdings and the effect the changes will have on their retirement benefits.

Currently "classified" staff members -- generally those that hold a teaching certificate -- pay into the Missouri Public School Retirement System. But following an audit of two Missouri school districts, the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration determined some of those employees should not have been exempt from paying Social Security taxes.

In an Oct. 22 letter, the Missouri Office of Administration said only the positions of "teacher, teacher-secretary, substitute teacher, supervisor, principal, supervising principal, superintendent or assistant superintendent, nurse, or librarian" should be exempt.

That means counselors, speech pathologists, instructional aides, Parents As Teachers workers or bus drivers may have to begin paying into Social Security starting July 1. The state Social Security Administration has not released a list of exactly which employees will be affected.

"There are all kinds of speculation and all kinds of rumors. People are saying 'Oh, it might be librarians or it might be counselors.' It's a big mess, and everyone's panicking because they think it's them," said Leila Medley, political director for the Missouri National Education Association. "No decisions have been made yet."

The association posted information on its website showing how an employee could be affected. It says "nonexempt" employees would pay 9 percent of their salary to the Missouri Public School Retirement System and 6.2 percent of their salary to Social Security, for a total of 15.2 percent. A person making $60,000 a year would pay $9,120.

A teacher or exempt employee would pay 13.5 percent of his or her salary to the Missouri Public School Retirement System, or $8,100 for someone making $60,000. School districts are required to match employee contributions.

"Right now we still don't know exactly how much money we're talking about. ... We don't even know who all will be affected. It has not totally been defined," said Dr. Jim Welker, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District.

Noncertified school employees who already pay into PEERS, or the Missouri Public Education Employee Retirement System, will not be affected.

Eight statewide organizations representing school groups have approved a resolution asking for more time before the changes go into effect. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri, wrote a letter to the commissioner of Social Security, saying the change would cause a "dire hardship" on districts.

Dr. Ron Anderson, superintendent of the Jackson School District, said he has more questions than answers. "I've heard some people speculate on this group or that group. I wouldn't want to venture a guess. This is a major concern we have," he said.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

388-3627

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