OPRF teacher singed by state's early retirement sunset

Paul Noble is the second local educator to be hurt by ERO's expiration

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Another Oak Park educator is feeling the effects of a decision made last year by the Illinois General Assembly to allow the Early Retirement Option to automatically expire last July. 

The program provided educators in the state, who are members of the Illinois Teacher Retirement System, the opportunity to retire early while receiving their full pension if they were willing to pay an upfront penalty.

Since 2005, ITRS members had been contributing a small percentage of their earnings to help fund the early retirement program. Now that the program is expired, that portion will go back into teachers' monthly paychecks. 

The educators who had depended on the program, though, have been left scrambling. Paul Noble, a veteran Oak Park and River Forest High School English teacher, is just the latest to feel the effects. 

"I planned to retire one year early, in 2020," Noble said in an email statement. "I intended to pay the ERO penalty and receive my full pension for 35 years of service to District 200. Illinois' decision not to renew the ERO program means that I now face a 30 percent reduction in my lifetime pension because I will be one year short of the 35 years required to be fully vested."

Several months ago, Noble requested that the D200 school board allow him to extend his employment at the high school, i.e. "delaying my currently contracted retirement by one year, until the end of school year 2020-21," he said in a statement. 

"It is no one's fault but my own that I did not foresee the termination of the ERO program," Noble stated. "And there is certainly a cost savings to the district in hiring a new teacher to replace a veteran teacher for one year. But to say that I was disappointed would be an understatement."

Noble's situation is similar to that of former Lincoln Elementary School Principal Cathy Hamilton, who applied to, and was approved by, District 97, for the early retirement option in 2013. When the ERO program expired two years later, Hamilton — who had been principal for 15 years — requested that the D97 school board push back her retirement for another three years so she could leave with a higher pension. 

As with D200 and Noble, the D97 school board upheld Hamilton's early retirement request, which meant it didn't allow her to stay on as principal any longer. Instead, the district found an administrative position for Hamilton. 

D200 officials would not comment directly on Noble's situation. They only confirmed that the board voted down his request with the Faculty Senate in attendance. Noble was the Faculty Senate's lead negotiator during the last round of contract talks in 2014. The next round of negotiations is scheduled for 2018.   

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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Reader Comments

5 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Kline Maureen  

Posted: October 21st, 2019 9:44 AM

hmmm... so this was back in 2017, and now 2 years later, with a few different members on the D200 BoE, is there any update to this story?

Josh Vanderberg  

Posted: June 22nd, 2017 7:10 AM

A few questions, what age is he retiring at, and what is the amount of his lower pension. I have a feeling the age is far less than I will be able to retire at, and the pension far higher than my expected social security benefits.

Barbara Joan  

Posted: June 21st, 2017 9:46 AM

Minimum wage employees with no benefits or pensions who are literal wage slaves/working poor see such sweet pay out deals that present as a type of golden parachute as just another example of the oppressives hypocrisy...A special meeting of the Board of Education of the Oak Park and River Forest High School was held on March 16, 2015 , Paul Noble commented on fairness for all and his remarks included " Can we not check our privilege for even one hour?"Well, can you sir?

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 20th, 2017 10:20 PM

Also, there is a misconception that there is "certainly a cost savings to the district in hiring a new teacher to replace a veteran teacher for one year." First, the taxpayers end up paying out a pension one year earlier than planned out of an extremely underfunded pension system, starting the 3% COLA compounding process a year earlier. Then the amount of that pension on top of the replacement teacher's salary exceeds the retiring teacher's salary. On top of that, the school district is forced to pay 29% of that early retiring teacher's salary into the teacher pension fund (TRS) for EACH YEAR of early retirement. So while the district may save money, it's not as much as you think. But overall, Illinois taxpayers end up paying much more, and it's overall tax burden that truly matters.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 20th, 2017 10:04 PM

How does one's pension get reduced 30% by falling only one year short of being fully vested? Teachers only need 34 years of service to reach full pension vesting, not 35. The only thing I can think of is that pensions are reduced 6% for every year a teacher retires before the age of 60 and full vesting, which would mean Mr Noble was retiring at age 55 perhaps? Some workarounds could be to take a teaching job in another school district for one year to achieve full vesting or just wait to collect your pension. But because Mr. Noble gave his retirement notice "early", he is entitled to 4 straight years of automatic 6% compounded raises per the contract. This is known as pension spiking, and by the time he retires, his final salary will be $175,000 and his pension will be based on an avg salary of $161,000. Some important elements missing from this article to ascertain the full financial impact.

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