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Wave of public employee retirements ebbs

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The wave of public sector retirements that occurred last year after Gov. Scott Walker introduced sweeping collective bargaining changes hasn't carried over into 2012, though the number of retirement applications is still up from 2010.

There were 4,552 retirement applications in the first four months of this year, according to the Department of Employee Trust Funds. That's down from 7,876 last year, but up 12 percent from 4,063 in 2010.

The number of retirement estimate requests fell from 15,274 between January and April last year to 7,863 this year. That's still up about 7 percent from 2010.

The Department of Employee Trust Funds, which administers the state's pension system, doesn't track the reasons for why public employees retire, department administrator Matt Stohr said.

"With the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) working its way into retirement, we have seen an increase in retirements and retirement applicants," Stohr said. "We expect that to continue for the next 10 to 15 years."

The first quarter of the year is the busiest time for retirement applications because that's when most teachers, who make up 30 percent of the retirement system, apply, Stohr said.

Following the statewide trend, the Madison School District saw about a 50 percent decline in the number of teacher retirements this year.

The Madison School Board has approved 71 teacher retirements through the end of May. Last year the district reported 138 retirements. In 2010, there were 83 teacher retirements.

Madison experienced a spike in teacher retirements last year largely because of uncertainty about the future of post-retirement benefits, Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews said.

This year the number was down because the district and teachers agreed on a two-year contract extension, which shielded the union from the effects of Act 10 until June 30, 2013.

Matthews said the district could see another spike in retirements next year if the School Board makes changes to the teacher emeritus retirement program, which grants teachers 19 percent of their paycheck each year for three years after they retire, or the ability to use unused sick leave for post-retirement health insurance.

"The School Board starting in 2013 is going to have the unilateral ability to change those things," Matthews said. "If they don't continue either or both of those, I think the quality of the school district is really going to decrease because you're going to lose tons of people with significant knowledge and experience."

Retirement Estimate Requests (January through April)

2010 7,339  
2011 15,863 +108%
2012 7,863 -48.5%
2012 compared to 2010   +7.1%

Retirement Applications (January through April)

2010  4,063  
2011 7,876  +93.8% 
2012 4,552  -42.2% 
2012 compared to 2010   +12% 

Source: Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds


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