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Social Security ruling could lead to many changes in Columbia Schools

Saturday, November 15, 2008 | 9:30 p.m. CST; updated 11:07 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 15, 2008

COLUMBIA — Between 70 and 80 concerned Columbia Public School District employees met Friday afternoon to discuss their retirement security after a ruling issued earlier in the week left workers uncertain about their retirement.

After an audit of two Missouri districts, the Social Security Administration decided too many school employees were exempt from paying Social Security. As a result, the administration has determined which positions will remain exempt. . Those positions are teacher, teacher-secretary, substitute teacher, supervisor, principal, supervising principal, superintendent, assistant superintendent, nurse or librarian.

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How it’s been
School district employees who possess a certificate issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education who work at least 17 hours on a regular basis and are in the PSRS system can be excluded from Social Security.
The Public School Retirement System covers those Columbia Public School employees. Missouri teachers currently pay 13 percent of their income to the retirement system, an amount matched by their employer. Employees without teaching certificates, who are members of the retirement system, give 6.25 percent to the retirement system and 6.2 percent of their income to Social Security. The school district also matches those funds.

How it will be
The new ruling, effective July 1, 2009, states that several positions will continue to be exempt from Social Security. Those positions are teacher, teacher-secretary, substitute teacher, supervisor, principal, supervising principal, superintendent, assistant superintendent, nurse or librarian. The Social Security Administration will determine if any other positions should be included.
School employees who do not fall under the exempt positions will give two-thirds of their former contribution, or about 9 percent of their income, to the retirement system and another 6.2 percent to Social Security. These employees will give a higher percentage of their income to retirement benefits and will take less money home. Columbia Public Schools will also have to match the money going to the retirement system and Social Security.



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Currently, Columbia Public Schools match the 13 percent that each employee gives to the Missouri Public School Retirement System annually. Under Section 218 agreements, Missouri employees who contribute to the retirement system are not required to pay Social Security. Most Missouri teachers fit this criteria and thus do not pay Social Security.

But under the Social Security Administration’s ruling, employees who aren’t exempt from paying Social Security will pay two-thirds of the former contribution, or about 9 percent of their income, to the retirement system and an additional 6.2 percent to Social Security.

Mary Laffey, assistant superintendent of human resources, said "everybody’s situation is individualized," meaning people will be affected differently based on their circumstances and where they are in their careers.

Laffey said she thinks the ruling could have a substantial effect on Columbia Public Schools.

“If everyone that we’re concerned about would fall into this category (of people who are non-exempt), it will have a huge impact on our work force,” Laffey said.

Laffey hinted at potential job losses, which could become a possibility if money must be reallocated to cover retirement security. Already, 83 percent of the Columbia Public Schools budget is tied up in personnel.

Laffey said she hopes for a delay of at least one year before the ruling will go into effect. She said the district needs time to inform people about the changes.

Chief Operations Officer Nick Boren gave attendees a breakdown on Friday of how the ruling would affect the amount employees give to  the retirement system as well as to Social Security if they are no longer exempt.

Christi Phillips, assistant coordinator for the Adult Learning Center, thinks all of the adult learning teachers could be affected by the ruling. She said though those teachers have adult education literacy certificates, they do not have a basic teaching certificate, which could require them to pay.

“Most (adult learning teachers) make less than the average teacher,” Phillips said. “They don’t have the salaries to support that.”

Aside from having an impact on Columbia schools, the ruling will also affect PSRS, Laffey said. Employees who start paying Social Security will give less money to the retirement system, meaning Columbia Public Schools will give less money. This will lead to the retirement system having less money to invest, she said.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will meet with the state Office of Administration on Tuesday to discuss and explain the different job descriptions. Laffey said she hopes this will bring some clarity as to what positions will be affected.

But Laffey said the Office of Administration has already stated who will be affected by the ruling. If an employee’s position doesn’t fit with those that have been identified, the employee will have to start paying Social Security.


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