Six-figure teacher pensions on the rise; quadruple since 2008

| Media Coverage

CITY HALL — Six-figure pensions paid to retired city education professionals has more than quadrupled since 2008, according to recent data from Empire Center’s SeeThroughNY, a fiscally conservative think tank.

Last year, some 3,416 New York City Teachers’ Retirement System retirees received pensions of $100,000 or more compared to 3,029 in 2019 and 856 in 2008, according to the data.

This year, the top educator to receive a city pension was a retired Queens College professor who earned $561,754.

A Retired DOE employee was the next top earner who took home a $535,386 city pension followed by another DOE retiree who earned $436,712.

In 2008, former Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina took home the highest pension of $205,108. But last year, 50 retirees walked away with pensions larger than Farina’s in 2008, with at least 11 retirees’ pensions exceeding $300,000 and five topping $400,000.

Additionally, the 838 teachers, college instructors and school administrators who retired in 2017 with at least 30 years of service credit last year received pensions averaging $71,562 — an 8 percent increase from 2016 retirees’ first-year pensions.

Empire Center Analyst Ken Girardin, who looked at the recent education pension data, said rising pensions are not the result of any recent policy decisions, but a result of the current system.

“They are a feature not a bug … these aren’t some unintended consequence of the pension system, these are retirees who put in the time for their pensions,” Girardin said.

Because these pensions are protected under state law, Girardin said there is no way to adjust what current retirees receive, but said the city and state should reconsider pension benefits for future retirees.

Girardin suggested the state put all teachers in a 401K voluntary defined contribution plan which are personal retirement accounts supported by employer employee contributions, which can also follow an employee if they change jobs.

Under a voluntary defined contribution plan, teachers would only need to vest into the system after one year compared to 10 years under the current system.

He said the “dirty secret” with the current teacher pension system is that many teachers actually are never able to collect a pension because if they leave jobs or move before the 10 year vesting period, they will only get their contribution refunded.

“New York City teachers earn their pensions over decades of service to the children of our city, and in many cases, they supplement their pensions with voluntary contributions over many years. While teachers with six-figure pensions are outliers and not the norm, it’s important not to minimize the years of work teachers have put in to educate New York’s children,” said mayoral spokeswoman Marcy Miranda.

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