After years of laying off the most recently hired teachers, the Los Angeles Unified School District is left with an aging and costly workforce.
For every teacher under the age of 25, there are more than 19 teachers older than 56, according to district data recently compiled for a retirement plan.
Additionally, nearly half of the district's teachers, 49.4 percent, are older than 46, while 15.5 percent are younger than 36.
Those ages correlate to a seasoned workforce of teachers who cost the district far more in salary and benefits than a newer and younger pool of educators.
This school year, 37.1 percent of the district's classroom teachers had more than 19 years of experience. Each one of those veteran teachers cost the district at least 37.8 percent more in salary than a freshman teacher who earned $45,637 compared with $75,024 for the veteran teacher, according to LAUSD documents. Additionally, an older workforce increases the cost LAUSD pays for health care benefits.
LAUSD's deputy chief human resource officer, Deborah Ignagni said that the district's seasoned workforce is a result of what is called "last-in, first out" layoff policies. The policy resulted in younger and less costly teachers losing their jobs when LAUSD reacted with budget cuts to cope with the economic downturn. At the same time, very few teachers were hired between 2009 and 2012, Ignagni said.
While the district could afford more young and inexperienced teachers — which could reduce class sizes — veteran educators help the district succeed, Ignagni said.
"What do you do with your teachers when they get into their 50s and they have more than 10 years of experience," Ignagni said. "There's something to be said for the experience teachers have also, and that's definitely worth money."
The teachers union, which is in the midst of divisive contract negotiations with LAUSD, proposed examining the financial feasibility of offering early retirement incentives in January. Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in February he wouldn't consider the idea because previous efforts wound up costing more than they save.
In fiscal years 2008-09 and again in 2009-10, LAUSD offered retirement incentives equivalent to 40 percent of base salary to be paid over five to 15 years.
Some successesHesperia Unified — a significantly smaller school district of about 23,000 students in the high desert — had both successful and failed retirement incentives, Hesperia Unified school board member Eric Swanson said.
Hesperia Unified's most successful incentive was offered about eight years ago. Because so many of the district's teachers expressed interest in early retirement, Swanson said Hesperia Unified was able to offer upwards of 70 percent in salary for the incentive. The lucrative offer saved the school district money and gave teachers a viable exit option.
With drastic changes in education, such as common core, Swanson said "maybe some teachers are saying, 'I just don't want to learn this new way of teaching.' "
"It's a good way to move teachers on, who are just ready to retire," Swanson said. "You end up replacing the teachers with ones who cost less, so you end up saving money."
But when fewer teachers say they want to retire in surveys that precede early retirement incentives, it results in less lucrative offers and fewer teachers who are willing to take it. The combination causes a net loss for the school district, Swanson said.
Even when a large number of teachers want to retire early, the district has to consider other costs, such as the price of training new educators, Swanson said.
University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll has studied trends in teacher aging for years. Recently, the age of educators nationwide has been declining. Public schools across the county had a median teacher age of about 41, in the most recent data for 2011-12. The median age of classroom educators in LAUSD this school year was about four years older at 45, according to LAUSD documents.
The national trend comes as schools across the nation are hiring teachers, Ingersoll said. But if those teachers are replacing retirees, schools can run into problems. Seasoned educators are needed to advise novice teachers on dealing with difficult parents, students learning English for the first time, discipline and other issues.
"If it's all beginners, it's kind of like the blind leading the blind," Ingersoll said. "There's a lot of things beginners need to learn and it doesn't happen over night; the veterans are the source of advice."
This year, about 800 educators have told LAUSD they may retire or resign after the school year. Ignagni said many more will file between now and the end of the school year, as they earn the credits they need to collect pensions.
But with the exception of 2008-09, when a retirement incentive caused a "little bit of a spike," about 1,800 educators typically leave the district every year. Because of the historical consistency, Ignagni said she doesn't think there will be an uptick in retiring teachers.
"When we look historically, it's remained pretty stagnant," Ignangi said.