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Baby boomer teachers face retirement

March 29, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Pat Murphy and his wife, Beverly, have dedicated their lives to the teaching profession in West Virginia and while both are planning to stay in the educational system for a while longer, they are part of a larger group facing retirement throughout the Tri-State area.

Many baby boomers - those who were born in great numbers after World War II - are now in their 50s and 60s. Their sheer numbers are going to impact some school systems when they leave their classrooms.

"There is what is called the 85-rule in West Virginia," Pat Murphy said. "If you have taught 30 years and are at least 55 years old, you can retire with full benefits."

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Pat Murphy has taught 29 years and, with his four years of military service, he could have retired last year. Currently this Berkeley County Board of Education member is in his second year teaching seventh-grade social studies at Charles Town (W.Va.) Middle School in nearby Jefferson County.

Murphy, 56, has no plans to retire any time soon.

Beverly Murphy will be 55 in September. She is now the librarian at South Middle School in Martinsburg, W.Va. "I'm planning to work until June 2005," she said.

The number of current teachers/administrators eligible for retirement in Berkeley County is 125, according to Linda Sponaugle in the human resources department. The total number of teachers there is 914.

Planning for these retirements requires careful coordination, according to Terry Lamberson who works in finance for Morgan County Public Schools. "We give a $500 incentive to any teacher who notifies us by Feb. 1 of a retirement," he said.

Peggy Miller, personnel director for Morgan County Public Schools, said there isn't going to be a huge turnover this year among the 212 teachers/administrators employed in the county.

"Most of the ones who are eligible to retire are staying," Miller said. "For many it is because of the benefits."

But another big reason, Miller said, is the pleasant work environment. "We have a lot of happy teachers here," she said. "When I recruit new teachers, I tell them that Morgan County gives them yesterday's living with today's opportunities."

Recruitment shifts into high gear in the spring, Lamberson said, as evidenced by the fact that Morgan County personnel were at Marshall and West Virginia universities last week for that very purpose.

Some smaller school districts, such as Southern Fulton in Pennsylvania, seem to be escaping the impact that other, larger systems are facing.

"We have 68 teachers and administrators in the schools here," said Mike Shaw, a payroll clerk for Southern Fulton Public Schools. "I don't think there will be much impact here with the baby boomers."

Of the 287 teachers in the Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District, 38 are at the 30-35 years of service level, according to Gloria Pugliano, assistant superintendent of schools.

"If they all went, it would be difficult for us. But of that group, I have only received three letters of retirement," she said.

In Washington County, preparations in anticipation of the baby boomers "spike" have been underway for about five years, according to Rick Gehrman, human resources supervisor for teacher personnel.

"Right now we have 200 teachers at full retirement age," Gehrman said. He hastened to add that doesn't mean all of them will opt to retire.

A lot of teachers reach that benchmark and decide to stay. "Our benefits are good and these folks feel secure," Gehrman said. "Some have been teaching for 36 to 39 years."

Another factor may be the mentoring program in Washington County, which Gehrman said acknowledges the worth of these teachers in training new teachers.

Teachers in Maryland are vested in the state retirement system after five years. When they have taught for 30 years or have reached the age of 62 they are eligible for full retirement benefits, Gehrman said. After 25 years, a teacher who is at least 55 years old can retire at reduced benefits.

"If we include those people at 25 years of employment, the number rises to 380," Gehrman said. "And that doesn't include people who reach the age of 60 and can go whether they have benefits or not."

As do many states, Maryland does allow for some military service offset - up to five years - in the number of years of teaching for the retirement figures, Gerhman said.

With the large number of teachers who were born post-World War II, the number of eligible retirees is growing. The hiring of younger teachers, therefore, is vital, he said.

"We recruit at about 30 sites, such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the Eastern Shore, Southern Virginia, Ohio and throughout the metropolitan Washington/Baltimore area," he said.

In addition, the school system advertises in The Washington Post, The (Baltimore) Sun and the Black EOE (Equal Opportunity Employment) Journal for the express purpose of attracting minority teachers, Gehrman said. "We have minority children and we are trying to have role models for them."

Gehrman said there are about 1,500 teachers in Washington County Public Schools. Last year alone, 168 new teachers were hired.

Attracting that many new teachers is easier with Washington County's attractive salary package, Gehrman said. "We offer $35,000 for teachers right out of school. And that can go to as much as $40,000 depending on the school they go in."

In many instances, the Murphys are typical of the "mature" teaching force still in the classrooms.

"I, for one, still enjoy the kids and the classroom," Pat Murphy said.

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