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Some teachers, principals earn more in retirement than superintendent

According to recently released information, some former teachers and principals earn more in monthly retirement payments than Roger Woehl, the former West Linn-Wilsonville superintendent who retired in June. Woehl earned $4,272 in October. Monthly amounts, which vary based on hire date and length of service, have given some older retirees larger checks.

However, local retirees were not in the top 10 earners in the state, which include Bill Korach, superintendent of the neighboring Lake Oswego School District, who pulled $20,069 in October.

The Oregon Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) released a list of retirees and their monthly earnings last month after a legal settlement with the Salem Statesman Journal and The Oregonian. Attorney General John Kroger ordered the list released favoring government transparency, though public employee groups argued that making the information public was an invasion of privacy.

The data dump included only retiree names and monthly payment amounts on Oct. 1. The list did not sort names by the agency from which individuals retired.

Statewide, 105,363 people were included. Of the October payments, only 311 retirees pulled more $10,000, while 50,716 retirees or 48 percent earned less than $2,000. The lowest monthly payment for any retiree statewide was only $1.01.

Employees of cities, school districts, counties, colleges and universities, state agencies and other government entities have been eligible for retirement investment packages since 1945. The system is administered by the Oregon PERS Board of Trustees, who resets interest rates every two years based on promised returns to retirees.

Over the system's life, it has undergone a number of changes both to raise and cap benefits to retirees. Most recently, changes have created new 'tiers' with different rules for employees hired after a certain date. The last changes were in 1996 and in 2003, with younger employees receiving less generous benefits than their older coworkers - a percentage of which will still receive benefits at or above their final salary.

In 2010, about 80 percent of retirees who had worked 30 years in the public sector received benefits at or above their final salary, but only about 11.55 percent of retirees reached that longevity.

Here are just 10 randomly selected local retirees from the public sector and their Oct. 1 payment amount:

* Roger Woehl, former West Linn-Wilsonville superintendent, $4,272;

* Sharon Newman, former principal at Cedaroak Park Primary School, $1,274;

* Sue Cowan, former Athey Creek Middle School teacher, $1,076;

* Bob Hamm, former director of personnel for the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, $5,780;

* Katy Mayer, former principal at Willamette Primary School, $5,077;

* Kim Noah, former West Linn High School principal, $5,764;

* Linda Ballou, former West Linn High School Spanish teacher, $4,653;

* Sam Foxworthy, former streets supervisor in the city of West Linn's public works department, $2,709;

* Darrell Bennette, former school resource officer with the West Linn Police Department, $3,515;

* Rick Senger, former sergeant at West Linn Police Department, $3,239.

The 411 on PERS

Tier I employees hired before 1996 receive a guaranteed return rate on investments based on a historic stock market performance of 10 percent. Reforms in 2003 capped the match at eight percent for employees in this tier who had not yet retired. The rate is adjusted every year, but before the reform the PERS Board often passed earnings to members with a higher match during good years instead of putting it in reserves.

Additionally, though PERS uses a few methods to calculate retirement benefits, most retirees have used a money match, in which an employee's account balance is matched by the employer upon retirement. The employee also receives up to a two percent cost of living adjustment. Under this calculation, some employees have received benefits in excess of their final salary.

The normal age of retirement is 58 or 30 years of service. Police and firefighters can retire at age 55 or 50 with 25 years of service. Early retirement is age 55.

Tier II employees hired between Jan. 1, 1996, and Aug. 28, 2003, are not guaranteed a return rate, unlike Tier I employees. Their accounts simply earn market returns. Employees can still retire under a money match or choose another formula in which they get 1.67 percent of their salary for every year they have worked. Police and firefighters get 2 percent.

The normal age of retirement is 60 or 30 years of service. Police and firefighters can retire at age 55 or 50 with 25 years of service. Early retirement is age 55.

Tier III or Oregon Public Service Retirement Program employees hired since 2003 cannot retire under a money match and instead have a less-generous formula than Tier II employees. Employees get 1.5 percent of their salary for every year they have worked. Police and firefighters get 1.8 percent.

The normal age of retirement is 65 or 58 with 30 years of service. Police and firefighters can retire at age 60 or at age 53 with 25 years of experience. Early retirement is age 55.

Average system benefits from January 1990 through December 2009

Age at retirement: 60

Years of service: 23

Monthly benefit: $2,120 per month or about $25,436

Monthly benefit in 2008: $2,671 or about $32,052

Public employee salary at retirement: $43,859

Public employee salary at retirement in 2009: $59,522

Percentage of salary at retirement: 55 percent

Percentage of retirees who received more than 100 percent of salary at retirement: 7.9 percent

Retirement benefit for 30 years of service: 80 percent of final salary or about $3,420 per month

Retirement benefit for 30-year members in 2000: 100 percent of final salary or about $4,200 per month

NOTE: These numbers are based on a June 2010 PERS Replacement Ratio study and covers retirees who selected comparable monthly benefit options. These numbers do not include any Social Security or Individual Account Program distributions.