Schools may get more time to sort out retirement benefits

Saturday, January 10, 2009 | 3:11 p.m. CST

WASHINGTON (AP) — Missouri lawmakers may have more time to work out issues surrounding retirement regulations for the state's public school employees.

The Social Security Administration had set a July 1, 2009, deadline for school districts to comply. But in a letter to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., earlier this week, officials with the federal agency said it looks as though that date "may slip."

"This is welcome news for the educators of Missouri," Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Friday in a statement. "I'm glad the federal agencies agreed with our assessment that there were simply too many unanswered questions for us to proceed with this drastic change using the current timeline."

The agency told school districts in October that too many of their employees have been exempt from paying Social Security taxes. Those workers are covered by the Missouri Public School Retirement System, considered more generous than Social Security.

But then, federal officials said that only teachers, principals and a handful of other positions can be exempt from paying into Social Security.

The concern is that benefits could be reduced for the more than 10,000 Missouri public school employees, including guidance counselors, instructional aides and certain office administration and transportation workers.

School officials say their retirement system helps lure employees away from more lucrative private sector jobs. Missouri teachers currently pay 13 percent of their income into the Public School Retirement System, and their employers match that amount.

Nonteachers pay 6.25 percent of their income, which is matched by employers, and also take part in the federal Social Security system.

Since the 1960s, Missouri's public schools have operated under a voluntary agreement with the Social Security Administration that allows teachers, supervisors, principals and certain other employees with teaching certificates to be exempt from paying into Social Security if they were covered under the state system.

Missouri expanded the categories of employees who were eligible for the state system and exempt from Social Security in 1984.


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