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Columbia Missourian

More Missouri educators set to pay into Social Security

By Sara Jane Maaranen
February 5, 2009 | 5:52 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The federal government has told the state of Missouri it has to collect Social Security dollars from some public school employees who have previously been exempt. Among those employees are vocational-technology teachers, math and literacy coaches, and other nontraditional teachers.

It will also affect teachers who do something else outside the classroom — for example, coaching track after school — and that portion of their salaries.

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“Fifty, 60 years ago, we didn’t have the definitions of educators we have now,” said Todd Fuller, director of communications at the Missouri State Teachers Association headquarters.

Missouri has been granted an extension until July 2010 to do this. In the meantime, state officials are trying to determine who, exactly, is a teacher.

“The proposed changes are very hurtful to the retirement system,” said Jim Kreider, executive director of the Missouri Retired Teachers Association. Kreider refers to the changes as "proposed" because he hopes Missouri will be able to work around them, he said.

The challenge will be to keep educators in the state without its lucrative retirement plan. Missouri is currently ranked 45th in the nation in terms of teachers’ salaries, according to Kreider.

“The Public School Retirement System is the tool that keeps teachers in the Missouri system,” Kreider said.

Changes to the retirement system will only affect educators with teaching certificates who aren’t in a traditional classroom setting. Noncertified staff members who work 20 or more hours a week and part-time nonteaching staff members will remain unaffected by changes to the retirement plan because they already pay into Social Security.

The issue of Social Security in public schools retirement began in 1946 when the Public School Retirement System of Missouri became effective. Under the 218 agreement with Social Security, teachers have been exempt from paying Social Security and instead have paid into the Public Schools Retirement System. For 60 years, the retirement system has helped Missouri educators in their retirement.

“In 2006, there was an audit of school districts, and no one knew they were out of compliance until they heard differently this past summer and early fall,” Fuller said.

The fear now is that educators who would be affected by Social Security implementation will plan an early retirement, seek Social Security-exempt positions (possibly outside the district) or leave Missouri altogether for better job offers.

For those nearing retirement, leaving early might be the best option. Because the last three years of work determine what individuals receive in retirement, leaving before the system switch would ensure retirees receive the benefits they'd banked on. 

“(By paying into Social Security), you’re talking about cutting one-third out of what they pay into PSRS,” Fuller said. “What you’ve done is affect (these educators) for the rest of their lives.”

The office of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said: "We need to remember in all of this that the employees in Missouri school districts did not create this situation, but they are the ones who would be most affected by changes to rules setting pension contributions."