Georgia teachers slow to retire despite looming pension drop

Noel Feeney, an 18-year veteran at Grovetown High School, has submitted her paperwork to retire at the end of November. Feeney will retire in the middle of the fiscal year, before the state cuts pensions by 3 percent at the end of 2012.



ATLANTA — If teachers and professors eligible for retirement are planning to cash in before pensions drop 3 percent, they’re waiting until the last minute.

State officials say they are not seeing a rise in teacher retirements despite predictions that a change in pension amounts would open floodgates.

According to figures the Georgia Teacher Retirement System provided to Morris News Service, the trend is headed in the opposite direction. Retirements peaked at 7,168 in the fiscal year ending June 2011 and dropped 2 percent in the past fiscal year. So far, applications for retirement from September through January show a 32 percent decline, although more applications are possible.

“TRS is not anticipating a spike in retirements, but it is too early in the fiscal year to be certain,” said Alice Rafferty, the executive assistant at the Teacher Retirement System. “Additionally, we do not anticipate any trend changes in our retirement patterns.”

Still, people in the field predict veterans will retire en masse.

“I’ve heard people talking, ‘Oh, everybody’s going to retire.’ Honestly, I haven’t been able to come up with a name,” said Deborah Simonds, a retired high school teacher who serves on the TRS Board of Trustees.

One name she could have mentioned, if she had known, is that of Noel Feeney, an 18-year veteran at Grovetown High School who turns 66 next year. She has submitted her paperwork to retire at the end of November to meet the 30-day deadline between her last day on the job and her first pension check so she’ll be within the cutoff for the end of the 3 percent offset.

Although she feels disloyal to her students by quitting mid-semester, she said Superintendent Charles Nagle, who is in the same situation, told her not to feel guilty.

“I have to start thinking about my own personal welfare,” she said, adding that Georgia teachers have gone years without a pay raise other than seniority increases and they have no collective bargaining rights like those in Chicago, who went on strike recently.

“I think that the legislators and the people responsible for passing this law, I don’t know what they were thinking about,” she said. “ ... They could have grandfathered people in until the end of the year.”

Tony Wright, Columbia County schools’ personnel director, said four teachers have filed to retire in November to take advantage of the deadline. He expects as many as 10 to do so.

Few educators seem willing to explain their thinking on the issue.

“Given the flurry of (job cuts) we’ve had over the past couple of years, not too many teachers are keen on speaking out in public,” said Tim Callahan, the spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

The state’s other major teacher organization, the Georgia Educators Association, also failed to find any willing to go on the record.

Although teachers sign contracts for the whole academic year, legal action to prevent a midyear retirement is uncommon.

TRS recommends that teachers submit their paperwork for retirement two months in advance to ensure that checks will be ready when work ends. That means that in order to begin getting pension checks before the offset ends, educators have to retire Nov. 30 and submit their paperwork by Sept. 30.

Staff Writer Barry Paschal contributed to this article.


Teacher pension payouts could have an economic impact on all residents.



Clarke County 10,304 2,744 $116 million

Chatham County 5,469 2,329 $78.1 million

Glynn County 1,646 1,025 $32 million

Richmond County 7,585 2,531 $82.5 million

Floyd County 2,441 1,153 $37.7 million

Coweta County 2,474 822 $31 million


Source: Georgia Teachers Retirement System, 2011 figures


The payout for teachers and professors who retire after the year’s end will be 3 percent lower because the government is ending a bonus intended to offset state income taxes.

Teachers’ pensions were exempt from state taxes until 1989, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state must treat all retirees alike. But that tax has essentially disappeared as the General Assembly has raised the amount of all retirees’ tax-exempt income to $35,000 between ages 62 and 65 and to $65,000 for those 65 and older.

The trustees of the Teacher Retirement System concluded that the offset was no longer necessary and won’t offer it to those retiring after Dec. 31.

– Morris News Service