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Average Connecticut teacher retires with $47,000 pension

By Johanna Somers

Publication: The Day

Published January 14. 2014 4:00AM
Nearly 90 percent receive at least $24,000 a year

Joseph Berardy, who taught science to generations of New London students until retiring in 2000, received a pension of $47,732 last year. That was 77 percent of his final average salary of $61,972.

Berardy, now 70, taught for 33 years at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and its predecessor, New London Junior High School. He is projected to collect an additional $743,044 over his lifetime.

His wife is still earning a salary, and the two of them have invested in 401(k) plans and IRAs, said Berardy, who lives in Uncasville.

"There is money coming in at me from every direction," Berardy said. "I just hope I can spend it in time."

Berardy's annual pension falls just about right at the average of $47,386 for Connecticut retired teachers.

Today, Connecticut public school teachers' salaries are higher than the average teachers' salaries in the Northeast, and their benefits are considered "good" by pension experts' standards.

Pension benefits for public employees, including teachers, were made generous in part to lure skilled workers to low-paying public jobs. Now the state is liable for a $25 billion pension system for public school teachers that is funded at only 55 percent of its obligations.

While retired public employees in Connecticut have the highest pensions in the country, teachers do particularly well. The Day's analysis of the state pension system showed that 88.9 percent of retired teachers received more than $24,000 in pension payments in 2012, compared to 54.3 percent of state retirees.

Connecticut's public school teachers contribute a smaller percentage of their salaries toward their pensions than the national average.

Berardy said teachers deserve their pensions because they don't get paid enough for the work they do and because of the professional requirements, such as earning a master's degree, that are placed on them.

Teachers' starting salaries first reached $20,000 in the state after passage of the Education Enhancement Act of 1986. By 2001, Connecticut teachers' average annual starting salary reached $42,450, compared to $39,527 in the Northeast and $35,672 across the country, according to the National Education Association.

Gloria A. Brown of Southington earned $6,200 in 1968, the year she started her career. After she taught for 37 years, Brown's final salary average was $72,607. Now she is annually collecting about 82 percent of that amount, $59,867, as a pension. She is expected to collect an additional $1.1 million over her lifetime.

She and her husband, who continues to teach, raised three kids on their teachers' salaries. Even though their salaries were raised substantially in the 1980s, "it was hard to put money away for retirement when salaries were low, so we had to depend on the state retirement fund," said Brown, who is the president of CEA-Retired, a branch of the Connecticut Education Association, which lobbies on behalf of 41,000 teachers. "I don't think anyone is getting rich."

Donald Fuerst, senior pension fellow at the American Academy of Actuaries, said a good retirement benefit for a career teacher would be between 70 and 80 percent of salary because teachers do not receive Social Security benefits. Keith Brainard, director of research for the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, said that a pension plan for a career employee of about 25 years, who does not earn Social Security, would normally be designed to provide 60 to 70 percent of final salary.

The minimum qualifications for retirement under the state plan are: 25 years of credited service at any age, 20 years of credited service at age 55, or 10 years of credited service at age 60. In 2012 there were 553 public school teachers in Connecticut who had retired after 25 years of service. They collected $33,442 on average, 58.7 percent of salary.

However, Connecticut public school teachers most commonly retired after 35 years of work and had an average annual pension of $59,281 - 84.8 percent of final salary average.

Paying for pensions

The average contribution made by employees who do not earn Social Security, such as teachers, is 8 percent of their salary, according to Brainard, from the association of retirement administrators. Public school teachers in Connecticut contribute 6 percent. Neighboring states' employee contribution rates include Massachusetts, 5 to 11 percent; New York, 3.5 to 6 percent; and Rhode Island 3.75 to 7 percent.

The state contributed $788 million to the Connecticut State Teachers' Retirement System in 2013. Each year from 2003 to 2007 it contributed an average $272 million, which was regularly less than the annual required contribution (ARC) recommended by actuaries.

So in 2008 the state pumped up the pension system with
$2 billion from bond sales. That borrowing committed the state to paying the full ARC amount recommended by actuaries for the lifetime of the bond, said Darlene Perez, administrator for the Teachers' Retirement Board, which administers the Connecticut Teachers' Retirement System.

The Connecticut State Teachers' Retirement System could be fully funded by 2037 if the annual required contributions are made.

j.somers@theday.com

Teachers pensions
The employers in the Conn. State Teachers' Retirement System whose retirees earned the largest pensions on average in 2012
Board for State Academic Awards, Charter Oak State College (Now the Board of Regents for Higher Education)$138,783
Northwestern Connecticut Community College$79,905
Charter Oak preparatory charter school$70,887
Side by Side Charter School$69,047
Board Trustees of Community-Technical Colleges$66,352
Department of Children and Families$66,203
Department of Developmental Services, Region 2$65,616
Middlesex Community College$65,358
Regional School District 9$65,170
Gateway Community and Technical College$64,944
Three Rivers Community College$63,643
The 10 boards of education whose retirees had the largest average pensions in 2012
Weston$54,396
New Canaan$53,937
Norwalk$53,534
Greenwich$53,294
Ridgefield$53,054
Danbury$52,914
Westport$52,836
Wilton$52,664
New Britain$52,584
Fairfield$52,171
The top 10 local school boards with the largest average pensions in 2012 for teachers
Groton$47,210
North Stonington$46,517
Waterford$46,361
Ledyard$45,655
Montville$45,383
Old Saybrook$44,031
Norwich$43,742
New London$43,577
East Lyme$43,528
Preston$42,385

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Join the conversation

As part of its CT Pension Project, The Day has arranged for pension experts to hold live chats on theday.com this week.

Today, Dan Livingston, a Hartford attorney who represented the unions in the 2011 State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement, will answer questions from noon to 12:30 p.m.

Submit your questions at www.theday.com/ctpensionproject

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