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Panel OKs educational retirement changes

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A teacher shortage isn’t the only worry lawmakers have about the educational workforce in the state.

Substitute teacher vacancies were also a hot topic at the Roundhouse during the discussion of Senate Bill 111, which moved forward in the legislative process this week.

Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor, said the proposal “tries to back out” of changes made in the 2019 session, which resulted in new regulations for retired educators who are looking to substitute.

“We not only have a crisis of not enough teachers and not enough certified teachers, but we are starting now to move that into our substitute rank,” Stewart told the Senate Education Committee. “That people are not wanting to be a substitute because we don’t pay them much and now we are requiring them to contribute to a (retirement) fund for which they will not benefit.”

Her proposal aims to block coming shifts surrounding contributors to the educational retirement fund. It also seeks to create a new option for Educational Retirement Board members returning to a job in education, among other things.

The Senate Education Committee passed SB 111 on a 7-0 vote Monday, and it is now awaiting action in the Senate Finance Committee.

Jan Goodwin, the ERB’s executive director, spoke publicly against the bill, highlighting solvency and possible federal tax concerns.

This year’s proposal aims to maintain the status quo for retired educators who go back to work but adhere to a working cap – a quarter of full-time equivalent hours or less – that allows them to be exempt from mandatory retirement fund contributions.

If Senate Bill 111 doesn’t pass, these employees and their public employers will have to pay contributions starting in July.

According to a Legislative Education Study Committee analysis, employees earning $24,000 or less will have to contribute 7.9% of their salaries, and employees earning more than that will contribute 10.7%. Employers will put in 14.15% of the salary of these employees through taxpayer-funded contributions.

House-approved budget plans do not include funding to cover the cost of the additional contributions by employers.

If retirees adhering to the cap stay exempt, the ERB expects a $4.1 million loss in future revenue, the analysis says.

The bill also aims to give subs an avenue to work more than the cap without going through a “return-to-work” program as it exists right now.

Currently, going through the program, which is required if a retiree wants to work above the cap, mandates a year out of the classroom called a “layout,” and retirees in the program must pay into the retirement fund without benefiting from the additional payments.

SB 111 would allow ERB member retirees to return to the education workforce with a 90-day layout so long as they don’t make more than $15,000 annually. And the bill says that an employee and employer can’t have an agreement for rehire.

Under this option, Stewart told the Journal, retirees wouldn’t have to pay contributions.

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