COLUMBIA — Chuck Miller had a plan. A plan to retire at age 50, own a cattle ranch and still be young enough to enjoy his family and lifestyle. The Hickman High School agriculture teacher's goal was to work 25 years before retirement, and with 20 years under his belt, he was getting pretty close. That is, until the Social Security Administration's ruling earlier this year.
In October, the administration told Missouri school districts that too many school employees were exempt from paying Social Security taxes. Employees pay into the Missouri Public School Retirement System, which is considered more beneficial than Social Security. School employees across the state will have to pay additional retirement funds to Social Security beginning in July. These employees currently pay 13 percent of their annual income into the retirement system. After July 1, they are expected to pay 9 percent of their income to the retirement system and 6.2 percent to Social Security.
People who hold a position as a teacher, teacher-secretary, substitute teacher, supervisor, principal, supervising principal, superintendent, assistant superintendent, nurse, librarian and counselor would be exempt from the ruling. Other positions are still up in the air. Social Security administrators, the Internal Revenue Service and Missouri congressional delegates were expected to meet in Claire McCaskill's office at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 12, in Washington, D.C., to gain a better understanding of how the decision was made and how it will be implemented.
Miller, the Hickman agriculture teacher, might have to pay Social Security. The teacher position is exempt, but specific types of teachers, such as special education teachers, preschool teachers and vocational teachers, have not been cleared.
Miller likely would not only give more money to retirement funds than before, but would get less money when he retires. According to the Social Security Administration's Web site, Social Security benefits are paid to people born after 1929 who have worked 40 quarters, or 10 years, during which they paid Social Security.
Miller said he doesn’t know for sure how many quarters he has paid Social Security, but it is fewer than 10. If he retires in five years, he likely wouldn't receive any of the money he gives to Social Security because he wouldn't have enough quarters.
Miller said he doesn’t understand how his teaching position differs from others or why counselors are exempt and his wouldn’t be, in the event that he does have to pay into the new system.
“I work my tail off for these kids and the school,” Miller said. “I’d sure like the government to realize that as well.”
Miller holds a teaching certificate in vocational agriculture as well as a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s degree in agricultural education.
Dr. Mary Laffey, assistant superintendent for human resources, told Columbia teachers last month that everybody’s situation is individualized under the new ruling. People will be affected depending on where they are in their careers.
Occupational therapist Wendy Myers might be affected if her job isn't exempt. Myers, who is in her eighth year working for Columbia schools, never paid Social Security, but instead paid to the retirement system. She will have more than enough time to earn 40 quarters before retirement, but she doesn’t think she can depend on Social Security for her retirement benefits.
“Social Security isn’t doing that great in itself,” Myers said. “I question how much will be there when the time comes” to retire.
Because Myers might have to pay into a government pension fund in addition to Social Security, she would receive less money from Social Security after retirement.
This is because Social Security benefits are figured to give higher benefits to workers who have lower lifetime earnings, said John Garlinger, a spokesperson for the Social Security Administration in Kansas City. Working for a substantial amount of time at a job that doesn't pay Social Security lowers the lifetime earning calculation.
Garlinger is unsure how school employees who start paying Social Security will be affected by this provision.
“There is a lot of discussion under way right now,” Garlinger said. “Until we’ve got some of these issues worked out, we aren’t going to go into any specifics regarding Missouri teachers.”
Myers also said that because she would only be giving two-thirds of what she used to give to the retirement system per year, it would be the equivalent of her losing a year of what she would get from the retirement system every third year.
Myers, who was originally a special education teacher, holds degrees in elementary education and special education. She also has an occupational therapy license. Myers said she made a decision to become a therapist because of the problems she saw in schools.
“I was expected to teach “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but some kids couldn’t even hang up their coats,” Myers said. “I was expected to teach literature novels, higher-level critical thinking skills, yet basic life skills were not even known."
As a single parent, Myers is concerned with how this will affect her family. She has the option of moving to a position in which she wouldn't be affected, teaching elementary school. She thinks others will consider something similar.
“Those positions (special education teachers) are a lot harder to fill,” Myers said. “There’s a higher turnover rate, a lot of paperwork involved.”