Teachers’ retirement-system bureaucrats who stand guard over the commonwealth’s unsustainable public pension gold mine would have us believe that retirement policies are too obscure and mysterious for taxpayers to grasp.
Rather, the real concern of these guardians of our public-pension system is that enough taxpayers will grasp the full extent of the generosity of these benefits and conclude: “we simply cannot afford such luscious benefits.”
Considering pension payments are determined in large part by salaries, such will likely be the response of many Louisville taxpayers in light of a recent survey released by the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) showing its teachers are among the nation’s highest-paid instructors.
The JCPS salary schedule reveals that Rank One teachers with 25 years’ experience pulled in $81,887 during the 2015-16 school year, up from $80,256 in 2014-15 and $79,462 in 2013-14.
Teachers who want to use their three highest annual salaries in determining the size of their pension checks must be at least 55 years old and have taught for a minimum of 27 years.
Many teachers retire after 30 to 33 years in the classroom, allowing them to boost their pensions by including their three highest annual salaries as well as taking full advantage of a service-credit rating that increases after working for three decades.
While the salaries in JCPS are higher – much higher, in many cases – than those for teachers in other parts of the commonwealth, the salaries for Louisville’s teachers do reflect the type pay – and thus level of pensions – amassed by many administrators across the state.
Using the legislatively approved formula, a Rank One teacher in Louisville who retires after 33 years can expect an annual pension of $67,649, or $5,637 monthly.
I reached that retirement amount simply by multiplying the average of those three highest years of salary mentioned for JCPS’ Rank One teachers by the service credit that all Kentucky teachers get – 2.5 percent for the first 30 years and 3 percent for each additional year.
It adds up to an 84 percent service credit and a bountiful pension for a retiree who works for less than 190 days annually for 33 years, with the bounty coming from taxpayers, many of whom work many more days per year yet cannot even afford their own retirement plans, or certainly not benefits as rich as Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS) pensions.
Add in the value of unused sick days – which is not included in that $5,637 monthly check for the JCPS Rank One retiree I mentioned earlier – and teachers’ pension checks grow like Jack’s beanstalk.
State law allows teachers to embed 30 percent of the total value of all unused sick days throughout their career – a maximum of 10 days per year and 300 per career – into the formula determining their pensions.
Applying state law, the value of each sick day is determined by taking KTRS retirees’ final annual salary – $81,887 in the case of JCPS – and dividing it by 185 days, which in the case of Louisville’s veteran instructors equals $442.63. The law allows retirees to apply 30 percent of the total value of their unused sick days to determine their lifetime pensions.
If this veteran JCPS teacher accumulates 150 – or half – of the unused sick days allowed by law, she not only gets a check for $17,358 when she retires (30 percent of the value of those unused sick days minus 12.855 percent that goes into the KTRS), she also gets to apply that amount to her retirement in a way that expands the size of those pension checks for a lifetime.
In the end, our JCPS retiree’s annual pension will jump an additional $5,577 each year to more than $73,000 (not including a 1.5 percent annual cost-of-living increase) for the rest of her life just for – as the late Yogi Berra might have said – doing what she’s already paid to do.