NJ may look to retired teachers to fill school staff shortages
TRENTON – To help address staffing shortages in schools, state lawmakers are on the cusp of allowing retired teachers to return to the classroom and draw a salary and their pension simultaneously.
The plan, which would also apply to retired professional staff members who provide special services such as speech and language therapy, was unanimously approved by the Senate in June but languished in the Assembly until Monday.
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex, the bill’s lead sponsor, said it’s a stopgap measure that must be followed by a long-term plan to better recruit, train and retain teachers and staff.
“It’s obvious we need this bill,” Jasey said. “We have needed it since the beginning of this school year, certainly.”
Schools are facing a “pretty critical staffing shortage crisis right now,” said Jonathan Pushman, director of governmental relations for the New Jersey School Boards Association. He said it’s good to be able to bring in veterans rather than novices.
“And when we are facing the vacancies that as I’ve said have only been exacerbated by the public health emergency, we need as many tools in our belt as possible,” Pushman said.
The bill, S3685/A5576, was specifically amended in June to allow special services staff members, such as speech language specialists, to work as interim employees without having to re-enroll in the pension fund. Speech language pathologist Robin Kanis said that can address shortages made worse during the pandemic.
Age of omicron
“Also now with omicron, we once again have emergency school closures,” Kanis said. “And as vacancies are created, the pool becomes less.”
Kanis said the retirees are fully certified, familiar with New Jersey’s complicated special education code – and already receiving health benefits as retired teachers, so districts don’t have to pick up that cost.
The bill is similar to one that applies to school nurses that was approved by the Assembly in November 2020, by the Senate and again by the Assembly in June 2021, then signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy two months ago.
The same provision already existed for superintendents and other certificated administrators.
Teachers or other staffers who return to the classroom while receiving their pension wouldn’t earn additional pension credits.
They would have to be retired for at least 180 days in order to return to the same employer.
People could return to work under a contract for one year, which could be renewed only for one additional year. Re-employment with any individual school district couldn’t exceed two years unless the state education commissioner specifically approves it.
The provision would apply to positions of critical need, as determined by the state education commission, and not necessarily to all grades and subjects.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.