Retirement waves may cause teacher shortages in some states, but for New York the wave has already crested

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009 at 9:20 am by

The New York Times reported on a new study forecasting a nationwide shortage of teachers due to escalating retirements.

But that wave of teacher retirements has already washed over New York State.

The report finds New York near the bottom in the percentage of teachers over age 50 and thus approaching retirement.

New York is one of three states with 41 percent of its teachers over age 50.  Only Kentucky has fewer — 40 percent.

The report observes that attrition among new teachers is also a factor.  The Times notes, “with one of every three new teachers leaving the profession within five years, a loss of talent that costs school districts millions in recruiting and training expenses, says the report, by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a nonprofit research advocacy group.”

No doubt some New York districts and perhaps regions will experience teacher shortages.  But in many regions, some of the need for teachers has diminished with declines in student enrollment.

In a presentation for the State Board of Regents in September, I noted that all upstate regions away from the Hudson River Valley have been averaging enrollment declines of more than 1 percent per year over the past five years (see slide 19).

The passing of a wave of retirements creates other problems for New York schools.

The Commission on Property Tax Relief noted that as long as retirements were continuing at a high rate, schools realized “turnover savings” by replacing retired veteran teachers with less expensive newcomers.  That helped offset some of the cost of salary increases and additional school hires intended to reduce class sizes or improve student services.

The Property Tax Commission’s final report observed,

“Absent the impact from an above-average number of retirements, it is estimated that teacher salary growth for school districts could be approximately 2 percent higher. As teacher retirements taper off in future years, school district salary expenditures will increase (p. 36).”

The president of the group issuing the teacher shortage report forecast other financial consequences of extensive retirements:

“In the ’60s we recruited many baby-boom women and men, and the deal we made was, ‘You’ll have a rewarding career and at the end, pension and health benefits,’ ” said Tom Carroll, the commission’s president. “They signed up in large numbers and stayed, and now 53 percent of our teaching work force is getting ready to collect. If all those boomers walk into retirement, our teacher pension systems will be under severe strain, with the same problems as the auto industry.”

Having experienced the retirement wave ahead of most states, New York will also confront the fiscal challenges it brings in advance of most states.

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