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NCASA Sought, Achieved Clarifying Guidance For LEAs On Employing Retirees As High-Need Or Other Teachers

Katherine Joyce | NCASA Executive Director

With last week’s enactment of Senate Bill 621 into law, LEA superintendents and human resource directors had breathed a sigh of relief in knowing they can legally employ retirees under either of the following: 1) subject to an earnings cap to work part-time in any school, or 2) as a “high-need teacher” working full-time with no earnings cap or loss of pension when placed in a “high-need school.” However, guidance issued earlier this week by both the Teachers and State Employees’ Retirement System (TSERS) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) created confusion on these options statewide as the Sept. 15th deadline loomed for LEAs to notify TSERS on their plans on usage of the high-need teacher option. The NC Association of School Administrators (NCASA) worked feverishly the last two days to identify the sources of confusion and inaccurate information sent to LEAs on this issue and was successful this morning in securing promises of clarifying guidance from both TSERS and DPI.

As a result of the conference call that NCASA conducted with officials from TSERS, DPI and the State Board of Education early today, LEAs have now received updated guidance from TSERS through ORBIT on their allowable options for employing retirees to teach. DPI also is in the process of updating a “Frequently Asked Questions” document on how to navigate the retiree employment provisions of enacted Senate Bill 399 as updated by Senate Bill 621 that was enacted with NCASA’s urging last week.

The updated guidance, now confirmed by both TSERS and DPI, includes the following:

  1. The options for employing retirees subject to an earnings cap or as high-need teachers are not mutually exclusive, so LEAs are not limited to just one option.
  2. LEAs can employ retirees to teach part-time subject to an earnings cap and full-time subject to special salary placement provisions of S399 in the same high-need school, which is any that is or was Title I or having an overall D or F school performance grade at any time since July 1, 2017.
  3. LEAs must report to TSERS by Sept. 15 (so actually by tomorrow, Friday Sept. 13) if they plan not to use the high-need teacher option at any time during this school year.
  4. LEAs may want to consider not opting out of the high-need teacher provision of S399 so they can employ retirees full-time with the required salary placement in high-need schools later this school year, even if not now using that option.
  5. The laws contained in S399 and S621 hold no penalties for LEAs who do not notify TSERS by Sept. 15 that they are opting out of the high-need teacher provision, even if those same LEAs ultimately do not employ any teachers under that provision this school year.
  6. LEAs may incur financial risk in using the high-need teacher provision to employ retirees before the Internal Revenue Service determines if the new state-approved option violates federal pension laws. S399 indicates any financial penalties handed down from the IRS will be passed to LEAs using the high-need teacher option.
  7. Because of the potential for financial risks, LEAs should consider only employing retirees to teach under earnings-cap limits, and not use the high-need teacher option, until the IRS ruling is received, potentially 6-12 months from now. LEAs facing a teacher shortage that need to use the high-need teacher option before the IRS ruling should do so only with concurrence from the local school board and the board’s attorney.

NCASA hopes these new clarifications are helpful to LEAs in navigating these teacher employment options as well as determining what, if anything, to report by tomorrow to TSERS on their planned usage of high-need teachers at any point this school year. We will provide additional updates on this issue if needed as developments occur.

A full summary of newly enacted S621, which amended S399 on high-need teachers and made clarifying changes to enacted Senate Bill 219 on teacher licensure, as prepared by the General Assembly’s Legislative Analysis Division can be found here.

Katherine Joyce