Gwinnett County teachers pensions more lucrative than many districts, study says

Gwinnett County Public Schools employees celebrate after learning they are the co-recipients of the 2014 Broad Foundation prize in education. AJC FILE PHOTO.

Combined ShapeCaption
Gwinnett County Public Schools employees celebrate after learning they are the co-recipients of the 2014 Broad Foundation prize in education. AJC FILE PHOTO.

A study released Thursday found the Gwinnett County school district’s retirement plan is more beneficial to teachers than many districts nationwide.

The 378-page report by the conservative-leaning Fordham Institute found a Gwinnett teacher must work at least 13 years in the district before the educator realizes a return on his or her contributions. The median "crossover" point was 25 years for most major U.S. public school districts, the report found.

The researchers based their findings on estimates of a 25-year-old new teacher making contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and Gwinnett’s contributions to the employee’s retirement plan.

Gwinnett, the state’s largest school district, does not participate in the nation’s Social Security system. Gwinnett, instead, has an employer-funded plan that is believed to be the only one of its kind in Georgia.

School district officials said via email they believe the plans provide “a framework of benefits that works for all teachers.” They noted a new teacher who leaves the profession is eligible to receive any employee contributions, including interest, made into TRS.

The study’s authors concluded retirement plans in many of the nation’s largest school districts do not help many teachers since the average tenure is 15 years.

Dara Zeehandelaar, one of the study’s authors, recommended giving teachers more investment options, such as defined contribution plans. Without such options, she warned, pension debt will rise and may have to be bailed out by taxpayers.