In schools across the country, those beloved veteran teachers who've taught generations of parents and their children alike might give up their passion much earlier than expected.
Schools trying to mend budget holes are offering teachers incentives to retire early, as replacing the highest-paid staff with new, lesser-paid employees saves money and averts layoffs. Other teachers, uncertain about the future of bargaining rights, are retiring early as well.
But losing experienced educators could come at a cost.
A wave of teacher retirements in Wisconsin could jeopardize the quality of its schools, Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"The amount of experience and expertise that walks out the door with these retirements is going to be impossible to replace," she said.
In Milwaukee, many educators are fearful of what might happen to their retirement plans in coming years, given Gov. Scott Walker's aim to eliminate teachers' collective bargaining rights. Karen Scharrer-Erickson, a Milwaukee teacher with 43 years of experience, tells the Journal Sentinel:
"I never thought about retiring until the (Gov.) Scott Walker situation, because this school is so special and I am working with the most incredibly caring teachers I have ever known."
Wisconsin districts are seeing record numbers of senior teachers turn in retirement papers; Green Bay, for example, saw three times as many retirements this year compared to last.
In the Pittsburgh-area Plum District, the school board is actually requiring 12 teachers to sign on to a plan that would pay them $1,000 a month for three years for retiring early.
It would save the district about $2.5 million over three years. One board member, however, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the district can`t "afford" to lose more than 20 experienced teachers, calling it a "brain drain."
Officials in Washoe County School District near Reno, Nev. hope that by offering an "Early Separation Incentive Program" for veteran teachers, layoffs can be avoided. Tom Stauss, human resources chief, says the district will find good teachers to fill the retired staff members' spots, the Reno Gazette-Journal reports:
"There is a little bit of a brain drain when that happens, but part of our teacher plan is we are recruiting high-quality folks to replace those who leave," Stauss said.
And in Ohio's Strongsville District, the school board just announced the early retirement of 36 teachers, each of whom will receive an additional $39,000 over three years.
Jeanne Brooks, who's been a teacher in the district for 30 years, fought back tears and commented about the effect of losing so many veteran teachers, according to Cleveland.com.
"We love this district and want to see it go well," she said. "That's a hit that you can't put a price tag on."