2001-03-10 / Front Page

Teachers Say Goodbye!

Teachers Say Goodbye!

Retirement Exodus Hits Local Schools

By John C. McLoughlin

Fears of a teacher shortage in New York City’s schools were fueled once again with the latest figures showing an explosion in the amount of educators retiring this June. Community School District 27, which includes Rockaway’s schools, will lose more than 300 teachers in the next two years.

According to official filings with the Teachers Retirement System, 165 teachers in District 27 will retire in June 2001 and 159 more will retire in June 2002, for a total of 324 educators leaving the public schools.

By this June, Rockaway’s schools will lose the following: PS 225, six teachers retiring; PS 42, one teacher; PS 106, seven teachers; PS 215, six teachers; MS 198, 20 teachers; PS 43, nine teachers; PS 183, four teachers; PS 114, six teachers; PS 47, four teachers; and MS 180, two teachers.

Despite significant pension incentives designed to encourage senior teachers to stay on the job, teacher retirements citywide in the last three months of 2000 were running about 50 percent ahead of similar monthly rates for the previous year, according to the Teachers Retirement System. Retirement rates for January 2001 were 85 percent ahead of the previous January and the February rate was more than triple the rate of the previous year.

If current trends continue, it is estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 senior teachers could retire citywide by the end of this year. This would represent the largest single retirement exodus in a decade, including previous years in which retirement bonuses were in force to induce people to retire early in order to avert layoffs. The average number of retirees in non-bonus years is about 2,000.

"It’s clear that thousands of our most experienced and qualified teachers are making the decision to retire," said Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers. "Yet for years the city and the Board of Education have been unable to find enough fully certified teachers to staff our classrooms. This year they hired fewer teachers than last. This new pending exodus belies the city’s claim that there is no teacher shortage. These numbers – and the testimony of union leaders in our schools – demonstrate an impending crisis that the city cannot advertise or privatize its way out of."

The UFT has cited uncompetitive salaries as a principal reason why the city cannot recruit and retain the most qualified teachers. Many senior teachers are leaving the city schools for the suburbs, which is true of three of the educators retiring from Rockaway’s schools this June.

"Teachers in the suburbs make 20 to 30 percent more than teachers in New York City’s public schools, and virtually all are certified, while New York City, with nearly 15 percent of its teachers uncertified, has by far the largest percentage of uncertified staff in the state," Weingarten said.

Jim Callaghan, a spokesperson for the UFT, said that it’s "hard to get teachers.... on this type of salary." Callaghan also told The Wave that New York State’s mandate to have only certified teachers in the classroom by September 2003 feeds the teacher shortage in the city’s schools.

Matt Bromme, superintendent of District 27, said he’s "worried" about a teacher shortage, which can result in overcrowded classrooms.

Bromme expressed his concern with overcrowding in the classrooms of Rockaway’s schools, saying a "class can suffer irreparable harm, especially in the lower grades."

Bromme finds the most vacancies in the subjects of math, science and foreign language. In order to attract new teachers to District 27, Bromme said they "need to feel respected." Under Bromme’s leadership, there is now school-based support, such as a full-time staff developer in each school to work with new teachers.

"We’re getting a reputation of supporting and helping new teachers," Bromme said.

Although retirements are occurring at a faster rate than new teachers coming into the system, Bromme said District 27 hired more first year teachers this past September than any other district. He expects the number of new teachers hired for next September to be more than last year.

"I’m concerned," Bromme said, "but we’ll survive it."

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