During the 16 years I lived in Florida, I saw 80-year-olds who played tennis weekly, an 85-year-old who actively owned three Walgreens, and an 88-year-old who supervised the construction of an 80,000-square-foot school building on a daily basis. Due to great strides in medicine, life expectancy has increased to over 80 years old in over a dozen states and is predicted to approach 100 in years to come. However…
People aren’t working that much longer. Founders of family businesses can come to work for a few hours a day. Most of us work for someone else, and we won’t work much after age 70. Other than roshei yeshiva, this is doubly true for teachers, who, conventional wisdom says, cannot be over a certain age in order to relate to their students.
Retirement plans with defined benefits are a thing of the past. Today they are only offered by governments and a rapidly shrinking number of big corporations. Social Security will have no choice but to increase its minimum age or keep its benefits low to stay solvent. Statistics show that half of the U.S. population over age 50 haven’t saved over $1,000 for retirement.
Teachers are cut from a different cloth than most of us. They have chosen their career with little regard for compensation. If they are making ends meet, they are almost definitely not planning for retirement. Even assuming that a teacher will teach at the same school throughout his/her career, our schools’ budgets will not allow them to offer them a severance package or pay them a reduced salary through retirement.
The boomerang of the explosive growth of day schools will hit our community when the teachers begin to retire in a few years. In 1980, there were 100,000 students in Jewish day schools. Today there are over 250,000. A teacher who started his/her career in the classroom in 1980 will turn 65 in the next five years. Since the growth was pretty steady, this retirement boom will be less of a “silver tsunami” than steadily increasing waves.
Their mission is to inspire our children. Our mission must be to take care of them. I’m not talking about raising tuition. There are ways that we can help our teachers that will not cost our schools more money. Offering them financial planning from a young age is one. Creating a pension plan that enables them to take their housing costs in retirement as income tax-free parsonage is another.
Al tashlich moreinu l’eit zikna.
By Rabbi Perry Tirschwell
Rabbi Perry Tirschwell is the founding executive director of the Torah Educators Network, whose mission is to provide education and benefits to mechanchim/chot. Tirschwell served for 15 years as the founding head of school of the Katz (formerly Weinbaum) Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton, and is a graduate of Yeshivat Har Etzion, Yeshiva College, RIETS and the Graduate School of Education of the College of New Rochelle.