Districts lose both younger, older teachers

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

As noted in a recent front-page story in the Southeast Missourian, Missouri's Public School Employee Retirement System results in the retirements of many teachers and administrators who are in their 50s.

In some cases, these retired teachers, under the right circumstances, are eligible to receive 90 percent of their salary in pension payments. Some of these retired teachers are content to enjoy early retirement. Others take advantage of the retirement program but seek jobs in teaching or administration elsewhere where even more retirement benefits can be built up.

As a result of the retirement program for public-school educators, several top administrators in our area are retiring from their posts but probably will seek other employment. Dr. Dan Steska, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District, announced several months ago that he would be leaving the district at the end of the current school year. He announced last week that he will become superintendent of an Illinois district, pending final negotiations. He is 52 years old.

The main reason Steska is leaving is because, with his length of service in Missouri schools, he qualifies for the maximum retirement benefits.

Without question, the Missouri retirement program for teachers -- as is the case with most other states -- is generous. These systems usually have huge investments. For example, the Missouri fund says it lost more than $22 million because of Enron stock losses -- a mere 0.1 percent of the retirement fund's $21.4 billion in assets.

Because so many teachers and administrators enter the teaching profession right out of college, they are able to maximize the benefits of the retirement plan for educators at an early age.

In spite of this generous perk, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says a third of those who enter the teaching profession leave within the first five years.

With educators who leave schools in the 50s and young teachers who opt to work in other areas or to not work at all, school districts are finding it more and more difficult to hire the best-qualified teachers and administrators.

It would seem that such a good retirement program would be a lure for young teachers and an incentive to stay in the classroom. But young men and women in their 20s often don't think about retirement or look ahead to the pluses of staying the course.

At the same time, it seems that there ought to be some way to make allowances for truly outstanding teachers and educators to stay at their posts even though they have earned the maximum retirement benefits. Good teachers and administrators are always needed in every district.

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