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More local teachers to retire early
Change in benefit packages alters decisions to continue working
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Rose Barton was planning on working for a few more years.

But her plans have very recently changed.

Last month, the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia announced the repeal of its discretionary tax offset, used to balance the income tax charged to retirement benefits.

“When I did the math, I saw that it was not to my advantage to continue working,” said Barton, who is finishing her 30th year as an educator, 21 of which have been in Hall County.

The offset, established in 1990, gave teachers a 3 percent increase in benefits for the first $37,500 a year after a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that every state must treat the taxation of retirement benefits the same.

Prior to that, teachers in Georgia were not taxed on their retirement packages.

But effective Jan. 1, 2013, teachers who have not retired will lose that 3 percent increase.

“If I had worked several more years, I would have lost that,” said Barton.

She says with her expected lifespan, the difference could have been as much as $40,000.

Those who retire before Jan. 1, 2013, will be grandfathered in.

So school systems may see an exodus of retirees this year.

Hall County sure will.

Last year, Hall retired 43 certified staff members. This year, 60 have announced their retirement, with a dozen putting in their notice after the system announcement last Tuesday.

“That’s why some of these folks are seriously looking at leaving that haven’t thought about it before,” said Richard Hill, Hall County associate superintendent. “And that list is growing.”

Hall County has about 20 to 25 more certified staff who are eligible for retirement.

“Every day since (making the announcement last Tuesday), we’ve gotten correspondence from people who are saying the same thing,” said Hill.

Gainesville City Schools has only received seven retirement announcements from teachers, but school leaders have given notice to those who are eligible.

“Those people who have 30 plus years, they really need to take a look at it,” said Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville schools superintendent. “I am not the expert on calculation, but I’ve told them to be careful because it could mean, over time, a great deal of difference in their benefits.”

Dyer is actually eligible for retirement herself, but the difference in her pension is probably not enough to get her to call it quits early.

“If I were a little bit older, it would be beneficial for me to retire,” she said. “But because I haven’t reached 62 or 65 yet, it appears to be the difference will not be significant enough for me to go ahead and retire earlier than anticipated.”

The TRS says the tax offset is no longer needed because older retirees already have hefty income exclusions.

Retirees between the ages of 62 and 65 can exclude $35,000 from state taxes. Those 65 or older can exclude $65,000.

But those who haven’t reached that age receive no exclusions.

The repeal, however, may push those teachers who still have a love for their jobs into retirement early.

“I have reached the age of retirement,” said Barton. “However, I had planned on working several years more.”

Her options, she said, are still many, but she just won’t get paid.

“I’ve still got a lot to offer the community,” Barton said. “I just won’t be getting paid for it.”

In some cases, retired teachers can return to the schools where they once worked as full-time or part-time employees, just without benefits.

The TRS, however, has nixed retirees returning as full-time employees.

In the summer of 2013, retirees who are working full-time are no longer able to return as full-time employees. The change was originally set for 2016.  Hill says the availability of teachers is the reason the TRS decided to move the expiration up three years.

But retirees can return as part-time teachers, or 49 percent employees, who only work, and get paid for 49 percent of the year.

Some school systems even agreed to that before teachers retired.

Now, TRS says there can be no agreement of rehire between school and teacher until the retirement is complete.

Schools do not have to pay benefits for those employees either.

Gainesville schools, however, will no longer employ 49 percent employees at the elementary- and middle-school levels.

They will only be used at the high school level because the block schedule is conducive to part-time teachers.

“We’re looking at reducing costs and therefore we have to look at reducing people, and that’s where it makes sense,” said Dyer. “It had nothing to do with performance, we just had to decrease.”

Some spots at the county may be empty, too. Hill is not sure if all the available spots after the retirements go though will be filled.

“We will look at each situation individually and evaluate if there is a way to serve the students equally, but maybe staff that school differently,” said Hill.

But, he says, no determination has been made as far as filling those empty slots.

And those slots may grow before the Jan. 1, 2013, deadline.

“Everybody’s very concerned, and I know that I’m not the only person that has chosen to leave,” said Barton.