Counselors exempt from paying Social Security

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 | 9:19 p.m. CST; updated 4:35 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Becky Gibbs was anxious. After a ruling from the Social Security Administration last week raised questions about Missouri school employees' retirement payments, she waited for answers as to whether she would be affected. She found an answer Tuesday.

The Social Security Administration announced Tuesday that counselors will continue to pay their retirement into Public School Retirement System and will not have to make payments to the SSA. It is still unknown, however, if similar positions without the title of counselor are also exempt.

“When I first found out about it, I was tremendously relieved,” said Gibbs, a counselor at West Junior High School.

The position of counselor is the only position that has been submitted to the SSA to determine whether employees with that job title will begin paying Social Security. Tom Sadowski, director of accounting for the state Office of Administration, was unable say why no other positions had been submitted. He also didn’t know whether the process would move more quickly now that one position has been evaluated.

Sadowski said he didn't know if decisions would be made on all positions by July 1, 2009, when the new ruling becomes effective.

Sadowski met with members of Missouri education associations at the Jefferson State Office Building on Tuesday to discuss the ruling. He had several objectives for the meeting: 

  • to identify government entities effected by this issue and their roles;
  •  to explain how the ruling will apply to public schools;
  • to explain why this is currently an issue;
  • to look at the process for evaluating whether a position is covered under Social Security; and
  •  to discuss what is next.

Sadowski told educators that the reason education retirement has become an issue is because of an audit done by the IRS in 2004. The IRS determined that Missouri public schools had “incorrectly stopped withholding and paying Social Security taxes” for many school district positions, Sadowski said.

Sadowski said the Missouri SSA is currently developing a “decision matrix” based on SSA criteria along with a self-evaluation process in which schools will identify and self-evaluate positions and submit them, along with supporting documentation, to the Missouri SSA. The Missouri SSA will then determine whether the position will starting paying social security or will remain exempt.

Sadowski suggested a group of educators could be involved with the process as decisions are made about how to proceed.

As for Gibbs, she said she still thinks educators in general are at risk of paying Social Security, even though her position as counselor has been exempted from paying.

“The fight is not over because there are a lot of positions and teachers whose positions are still in question,” Gibbs said. “I’m concerned.”

Missourian reporter Ashley Cirilli contributed to this report.

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