Pension changes prompt retirements for some North Georgia superintendents

Pension changes prompt retirements for some North Georgia superintendents

September 9th, 2012 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

Melody Day

Photo by Ben Benton/Times Free Press.

Several North Georgia superintendents are choosing to retire midway through the school year to avoid losing thousands of dollars in their retirement plans.

The Teacher Retirement System is eliminating a tax offset benefit from educators' pensions at the end of the year, said Herbert Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association. The benefit added about $100 to $200 to a retirement paycheck per month, he said.

For superintendents already planning to retire, it makes sense to make the decision early and not lose a portion of their pension, Garrett said.

In North Georgia, at least four superintendents -- from Floyd County, Polk County, Rome and Chickamauga -- have announced their pending retirement or already have retired this semester.

Educators say it's a tough decision to make and question how many seasoned leaders will be leaving prematurely, creating a gap in experience.

"You will have a number of outstanding educators exit at the same time in Georgia," said Gayland Cooper, superintendent of Rome City Schools, who is retiring.

Last week, Chickamauga City Schools Superintendent Melody Day, who worked for the school district for 34 years, retired nearly three weeks into the school year, saying the change in benefits helped her make her decision. But she said she wanted to oversee the beginning of the year before leaving.

Chickamauga school board Chairman Corky Jewell said it's sad to lose Day, but he said the board members understand she had to look at all of her options.

"She had been talking off and on for several years about maybe retiring," Jewell said. "We hate to lose her, but it wasn't something that took us by surprise."

For younger educators, the change in retirement won't be noticed because the new tax laws will give larger tax breaks within the pension system, Garrett said. The tax offset was eliminated because it was based on a tax calculation that is outdated, Garrett said.

Cooper, who has worked in schools for nearly 40 years and spent 10 years as superintendent in Rome, said he was planning to retire at the end of the coming school year. He had hoped to oversee the completion of a new school, he said, but after learning that the benefit was being eliminated, he had to question his decision.

"I really wanted to stay, but at the same time it seemed foolish," he said. "I think we all just made a rational decision we were all going to [make anyway]."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at 423-757-6659 or jlukachick@timesfreepress.com.