Benefit changes could lead to teacher retirements

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A law passed by legislators during the 2011 Regular Legislative Session could lead to more teachers retiring than usual in Alabama's public schools earlier than usual.

As of Thursday October 6, the number of expected retirements was only slightly above normal according to the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

"Once school kind of got started and superintendents started realizing the implications of that act and the timing of when it would actually take place we started hearing from a lot of superintendents realizing it was going to create a lot of disruptions in their schools" said Craig Pouncey, the Deputy Superintendent of the Alabama Department of Education.

Lawmakers passed changes to both of the state's major public employee health insurance plans during the legislative session that concluded in June. The Public Education Employees Health Insurance Plan, or PEEHIP, will go up in increments over the next five years to increase the amount that employees contribute to the plan while simultaneously decreasing the amount the employer, or in this case, the state contributes. The law has a deadline of December 1, 2011 for anyone retiring to avoid increased premiums.

According to the RSA, there are 10,000 possible retirees enrolled in the PEEHIP system that may want to retire to avoid the higher premiums.

One of them is Tammie McGriff who teaches Kindergarten at Jemison Elementary School. She says she has no choice but to retire because of her rising premiums.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," McGriff said in her Jemison classroom. "I just hope I can find something part time working with children."

McGriff has two daughters in college and one of them is about to graduate. She says the family utilizes her insurance plan for coverage.

She's worked at Jemison Elementary for 32 years and has never been employed anywhere else. Combined with her age, 55, McGriff pays about $350 per month in health insurance costs that cover her entire family. If she chooses to retire December 1, she will avoid any increase. If not, her costs will go up by about $20 each year until 2016 when the entire increase will be satisfied by state law.

"I just can't afford it" McGriff said, fighting back tears.

"It was a hard decision. But I felt like it was the best for my family because we're on my insurance."

Pouncey with the Department of Education doesn't think the unconventional mid-year deadline was done on purpose.

"I don't think anybody really understood the implications" Pouncey said. "Because of conversations I've had with many legislators that they would support anything that would sort of minimize that level of disruption."

In a statement from Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh who sponsored the legislation he said, "There hasn't been a spike in the number of retirees so far, and we don't anticipate this being an issue. We will have the actual number of those planning to retire on November 1 and will know definitively then if this is a cause for concern."

Pouncey said he would be in favor of some sort of Special Session of the Legislature to address the possible retirements to simply move the date to the end of the school year instead of in between semesters.

For McGriff, she says she'll miss the children the most. "I'll find something" she said.

Any potential retirees must file paperwork by November 1, 2011 in order to retire by December 1. The new sliding premiums scale goes into effect January 1, 2012.

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