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January-February, 2009

Legislature extends pilot on hiring retired teachers

The question for this issue is answered by Ben Schwarm, IASB's associate executive director for governmental relations.

Question: We understand that a law went into effect in August that affects the hiring of retired teachers. What impact will this have on our hiring process for the 2009-10 school year?

Answer: Basically, nothing has changed. This new law extends a pilot program in the Illinois Pension Code for five more years (until 2013). It allows districts to hire retired teachers without jeopardizing that teacher's access to funds in the Teacher Retirement System or the district's contributions.

IASB supported the original law, Public Act 93-320, passed in 2003, which set forth conditions whereby public schools could hire retired teachers to fill "shortage areas" in a district. The three requirements were:

1. The school had to be experiencing a shortage of teachers in the subject area where the teacher was qualified to teach.

2. The district had first offered the position to a qualified teacher who had not begun to receive retirement annuities and had advertised its vacancy for at least 90 days and searched for applicants in the Illinois Education Job Bank.

3. The district was willing to make health insurance available that was comparable to that being offered other teachers, without limitations based on pre-existing conditions.

In a letter to the governor supporting the original legislation, IASB stated:

"As school staff have aged, and have requested and been offered retirement incentives, schools have been left without experienced staff. In some areas they've been left without qualified staff to fill shortage area positions. This bill will allow school districts to hire qualified, experienced staff until we can locate, interview and hire qualified staff for those positions. We believe the bill contains the appropriate safeguards so this provision cannot be abused by employees or employers."

Those safeguards, which continue in the extension of the law, keep teachers from "double dipping," collecting full retirement and TRIP health coverage from the state while still collecting full payment for teaching and health benefits from the district. As enumerated in the law, those safeguards are:

  • A rehired, retired teacher gets health insurance by paying into the program for active teachers in the district.
  • The teaching assignment must be in a designated "shortage area."
  • The teacher cannot have used the early retirement option and continue teaching in the district.
  • The retired teacher must be certificated and in the collective bargaining unit.
  • The teacher will not receive any additional service credit for the work.
  • The district must have tried to find and hire an active teacher for the position.
  • The district does not pay additional money into the TRS regarding the retired teacher's salary.

In essence, this amendment of the pension code specifically was designed to allow districts to benefit from the experience of a long-time teacher while they search to find someone with the right qualifications to fill a vacancy. It allows districts to have a stop-gap measure without jeopardizing the retirement benefits that a teacher has already accrued.

And if your district plans to hire a retired teacher under the provisions of this law, it must notify TRS in writing that that person wants to participate in the program.

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