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'Early out' may not be wise

April 18, 2003

In a move designed to cut costs, the Pennsylvania House is looking at reducing the number of years needed for teachers and state workers to retire. But we're not sure the bill is affordable, or whether now is the time to encourage veterans teachers to leave the system.

The early-out proposal comes from Rep. Peter J. Daley, D-Washington. It would give teachers and state workers the option of retiring with 30 years' service, no matter what age they are.

Proponents of the measure would allow school districts to save money by replacing veterans who get higher salaries with new teachers who would only draw starting pay.

But what is saved in one area might have to be made up in another, according to Dale Everhart, director of the Public School Employees' Retirement System. Everhart said the change could cost $448 million between now and 2013, in part because the "30-and-out" option hasn't been offered since 1999.

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For state workers, the costs could be $415 million over that same period according to John Brosius, director of the State Employees Retirement System.

In all, 34,000 teachers and state workers would be eligible to retire if the measure took effect on June 30, 2004.

The House State Government Committee hasn't okayed the bill for a vote by the full House, but its chair, Rep. Paul Clymer, said that would happen soon.

Before the bill is sent along, the committee should look at how much is being earned by the funds that pay these pensions. If they can't take the additional jolt that this bill will give them, the measure should be put on hold until the economy improves.

But the most persuasive argument for delaying this bill comes from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. PSBA questions whether it's a good idea, with the federal "No Child Left Behind" law taking effect, to encourage veteran teachers to retire.

We agree. Getting Pennsylvania schools in synch with new federal rules will require all the expertise that's available.

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