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Teacher retirement applications on the rise

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 6:43 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Nearly 750 Wisconsin teachers retired in the spring of 2020. NBC15 Investigates sat down with newly retired Robin Staley who was one of those educators.

Staley worked in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) for more than 40 years. She spent more than 30 of those at James Madison Memorial High School.

“When the pandemic came, I was like, ‘awe this is really not how I foresaw ending my teaching career,’” Staley said. “There were so many end-of-the-year projects that I do that I was so disappointed to miss.”

Staley plans a yearly stock exchange project and World War II oral history lesson for her students.

However, Staley said even though her final semester was an emotional and difficult one to end on, she never regretted her decision to retire.

“I think the whole retirement question is a personal one, I don’t think it’d retire, just because the pandemic is happening, I feel like so many other reasons factor into that decision,” Staley said.

Just outside of Madison, in Sun Prairie, long-time music teacher and band director Steve Sveum was going through a similar emotional roller coaster. He was teaching music lessons over Zoom and there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding students from the pandemic.

Sveum’s thoughts were different than Staley’s.

“Because of kids not knowing who their teacher was going to be,” Sveum said. “I would’ve come back if that was possible, contractually reasons it wasn’t possible, but you just feel that obligation for that smooth transition and that kids have something stable.”

Sveum said he felt comfortable transitioning into retirement after the district found a replacement, who already had an established teacher-peer relationship with many of the students.

The Data

According to the Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF), the number of teacher applications has increased by about 18% since 2019.

Department of Employee Trust Funds shares data for teacher retirement; an increase during the pandemic
Department of Employee Trust Funds shares data for teacher retirement; an increase during the pandemic(department of employee trust funds)

An ETF employee told NBC15 Investigates the department has processed more than 28% more retirement estimates for teacher and other government employees compared to last year.

State Supt. Of Public Instruction, Carolyn Stanford Taylor spoke with the NBC15 News team. Taylor touched on the topic of teacher vacancies and shortages as more educators apply for retirement.

“This pandemic has served to increase those numbers a bit, we’re working with the university to encourage an interest in education,” Stanford Taylor said. “I know many of our districts have a grow their own program who know others in classrooms or some other profession who have an interest in education, and they’re in their own way are encouraging those individuals to go out and get their license.”

During the interview, Stanford Taylor also encouraged more diversity among aspiring teachers.

Teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District must apply for retirement by the February deadline. In 2020, that was right before the pandemic.

The ETF correspondent also told NBC15 News that the increase in teacher retirement applications could be a result of the pandemic, but people putting of their retirement and other life events are other possible factors.

Copyright 2020 WMTV. All rights reserved.

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