There are many words to describe the retirement benefits of New York City’s public-school teachers. Most of those words are unprintable, at least on this page, so we’ll simply stick with one: That would be “insane.”
The Post reported several days ago that more than 700 former teachers—some of them retired from the City University system—collect pensions of more than $100,000 a year, and some make double that amount. Teachers collected $3.8 billion in pension checks last year from the Teachers Retirement System, a fund that lost $9 billion, or about 30 percent of its value, last year. The city contributed about $2 billion to the retirement fund last year.
It used to be that public employees, including teachers, understood that city and state pension benefits were part of a trade-off—they didn’t make as much money as they might have in the private sector, but in return, government took care of them in their retirement.
That formula, however, belongs to the age of the typewriter, the assembly line and the lunch bucket. Veteran teachers now make decent salaries—they’re not getting rich, but they’re not starving, either—and life expectancy is years higher than it was a half-century ago. Many teachers in the city still can retire at age 55 and start collecting what, for some, is a gold-plated pension, assuming they have served for 25 years or more.
The union no doubt would point out that the $100,000-per-year pensioners are not all public-school teachers—some, as noted above, were college professors—and in any case, some 70,000 retired teachers collect pensions. The scandalously high earners constitute only about 1 percent of the entire retiree population.
That’s not the point. The fact is that New York City can not afford to pay teachers traditional pension benefits, especially when they have the option to cash in at an age when most taxpayers still are a decade away from retirement. City Hall needs to get tough, and creative, in new rounds of talks with the teachers’ union. State law protects the benefits of current teachers, but going forward, the city should reward new teachers with higher salaries if they opt for a 401(k)-style benefit package, or for no pension benefit at all.
Higher salaries would broaden the pool of potential teachers at a time when many talented people are reconsidering their career paths.
In any case, the current system simply is unaffordable. Public service is an honorable and noble calling, but when taxpayers hear of these kinds of outrages—pensioners making six figures—they can hardly be blamed for thinking that teachers (some of them, anyway) are part of our intractable financial problems.