Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It looks like a rush to retire at Ohio STRS

From John Curry, April 27, 2011
Ohio looks to fill void left by grown-up baby boomers
By Lia Armstrong

The Lantern, April 26, 2011

"Baby boomer" often describes someone born between 1946 and 1964, but for teachers of that generation, it now means one more thing: retirement.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and The Pew Research Center, baby boomers currently account for 26 percent of the population. Starting in 2011, about 10,000 boomers will reach the age of 65 every day for the next 19 years.

This means a large portion of the population will be leaving the workforce nationally, adding a burden to the quality and availability of teachers in many fields.

Charles Wilson, a Worthington school board member and associate professor at the Ohio State Moritz College of Law, said within the next five years, 50 percent of all teachers who are of the baby boomer generation will come to retirement age.

Charles Wilson

Though there is a surplus of teachers in Ohio, Wilson said the majority of them are not set to fill the positions that need it most.

"The problem is right now, even with a so-called lut of teachers,' we can't find foreign language teachers, we can't find special-ed teachers, we can't find science or math teachers," Wilson said.

Baby boomers largely occupy these hard-to-staff subjects, Wilson said.

"If all of our teachers in those areas are in retirement age, when they retire, I shudder to think how we're going to replace them," Wilson said.

There is some attempt to drive teaching students into the harder-to-fill fields with Project Aspire, a federal grant-based program through the College of Education and Human Ecology at OSU that encourages students studying teaching to work in high needs areas in Columbus City Schools.

Jessica Mercerhill, the director of the curriculum and program planning for Project Aspire, said the project helps guide students into the emptying fields, but only reaches the students who are already interested in going to these areas.

"For us it's based on what they already want to do," Mercerhill said. "We're only working with people who have been accepted into secondary education in science and mathematics and some foreign language."

Mercerhill said she did not know of any programs that pushed students into these fields.

Zach Jensen, a third-year in middle childhood education, said he has been advised of his career options, but was never strongly persuaded to go into an area other than middle school education.

Even with advice, Jensen said it wouldn't change his plans.

If these positions the retirees leave are not filled, this could mean programs being eliminated, much larger class sizes and unqualified teachers, Wilson said.

"K-12 education is going to be in a crisis if the baby boomers retire," Wilson said.

Ohio teachers might also be more likely to take early retirement based upon recent legislative developments in Senate Bill 5 and the current pension reform under consideration in House Bill 69 and Senate Bill 3. The proposed plans would increase the minimum years of service needed from 30 to 35, would not allow for a cost of living increase for five years and would cap pension.

Those teachers who are at retirement age will see a reduced pension after 2012, Wilson said. For these teachers, retiring will make little financial sense.

"Pension reform is going to encourage more people to retire sooner so their pension doesn't get smaller by staying on," Wilson said.

Even though Ohio Department of Education representatives were unable to say if the rate of projected teacher retirements is as high in Ohio as it is nationally, Laura Ecklar, communications director for the State Teachers Retirement System, said she has seen a larger number of teachers applying for retirement this year than ever before.

"We are starting to see an increase in applications," Ecklar said. "But it will be difficult to tell if that pattern continues, because a whole lot of people are waiting to see what happens with the proposed pension plans that are in legislation."

Pension changes aside, many Ohio teachers feel the recent SB5 decision belittles their profession and they don't want to stay in a career with little public and political support, Wilson said.

"For serious teachers, it's a 24/7 job, and this notion that somehow it's easy work rubs people the wrong way," Wilson said. "Who wants to go into a job where your elected officials are saying every day that you're worthless?"

Recent legislation is only adding to the discontent of teachers, but Wilson said the real problem lies in officials' lack of effort to actively fill these less desired positions.

"Colleges of education don't admit people based on where the needs are," Wilson said. "They just have this attitude that a teacher is a teacher and mostly what they're turning out are elementary school teachers. The last thing we need in Worthington is another first grade teaching applicant, we had hundreds for our last opening. But we didn't have a single applicant for our last Spanish teacher opening."

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