Union president reviews early teacher retirement bill proposal

WESTFIELD – During the Feb. 22 Westfield School Committee meeting, Westfield Education Association president Lori Lyncoski reviewed a new bill proposing a retirement enhancement opportunity for teachers.

The bill, SD.1111, which was presented to the legislature by Sen. John C. Velis (Second Hampden and Hampshire) on Feb. 11, allows teachers at a certain longevity to retire early, by adding five years to their age and five years to their years of service.

Before the presentation, Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said the new bill has the possibility of passing or not passing.

Lyncoski agreed. She said the docket numbers have been filed. She said the whole idea behind the proposal is three-pronged, and would give compromised teachers the opportunity to retire early.

Lyncoski said the proposal would not have a negative financial impact on the district. “In order to participate in the retirement plan, we would have to pay it forward. It’s not going to have an impact on the locals, it’s going to have an impact on the state, but they pay less than one percent into the Massachusetts Teachers Retirement System, which is self funded,” she said.

Lyncoski said the cost savings for the City of Westfield would come from offering teachers at a higher pay grade an incentive to retire, which would result in savings in compensation for new hires.

As an example, she said a median retirement value for a teacher with 23 to 25 years, including health benefits and the unfunded liability is $201,000. A median new hire value for a teacher including salary, health benefits and unfunded liability is $87,000 and they won’t have longevity for 15 years.

“This is showing where there can be cost savings for the City of Westfield,” Lyncoski said.

“Our compromised teachers on the top steps are going to be able to buy time to get out and keep themselves healthy and out of harm’s way. Teachers who are not health-compromised, this gives them the opportunity to get out and have the district hire new teachers. Most new hires are taking the insurance with the least amount (from their) paychecks, but the largest deductibility,” Lyncoski added.

Human Resources Director Paula Ceglowski said the bill includes a local option, which would require a vote of both the School Committee and the City Council. She said if it passes into law, there will be two windows of opportunity for teachers – from June to August, 2021, and June to August, 2022. She said there are concerns about positions not being filled, and proposed language in the bill to discourage reducing positions.

“The intention was to inform you about the docket as presented,” Ceglowski said. She said since this proposal had been discussed by the City Council and referred to the Long Range Planning Committee, Personnel Action Committee and the Mayor’s Office; she, Lyncoski, and School Committee member Ramon Diaz, Jr. had been requested by Councilor Dave Flaherty to attend a Long-Range Finance meeting next week to discuss the proposal.

“Thank you for the presentation,” said School Committee member Cindy Sullivan “It’s not an attempt for Westfield or any other community to downsize; it’s basically allowing people to retire and hire new employees at a lower rate. Do you know how many teachers or staff this could affect,” she asked.

Lyncoski said over the weekend she was crunching numbers, and came up with 33 people the first year, and 28 the second year.

“I think those numbers are smaller than what they could be. What I’ve been hearing is that teachers are ready to go,” said Committee member Heather Sullivan.

Lyncoski said she understands that, because she is the one getting phone calls from teachers “who are distraught, anxious about what happens if, or they’ve gotten COVID, or have an elderly relative. These people need to be made whole,” she said.

Lyncoski said they are going to put out a survey to WEA members asking if they had an interest in the proposed program, and also if they had creditable retirement time in other districts, to help them be more accurate with their numbers.  

“The open lines of communication are great. Thinking we’ll be voting on this in the next couple of weeks is very premature. This was information, and it’s good to have information as we move forward. The liability to the city is a big deal. When you hear retirement, that’s what people think. I just want to make sure facts are being spread, and not assumptions,” said Cindy Sullivan at the end of the presentation.

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