Overview of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System

This section describes the makeup and responsibilities of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System.

Table of Contents

Overview

The Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System (MTRS) was established on July 1, 1914. According to its website,

The MTRS, which is the largest of the Commonwealth’s 104 contributory retirement systems, provides retirement, disability and survivor benefits to Massachusetts teachers, administrators and their families.

Chapter 32 of the Massachusetts General Laws establishes the system’s benefits, contribution requirements, and accounting structure. Teachers and administrators in Massachusetts public schools (except those employed by the City of Boston3), educational collaboratives, and charter schools are eligible for membership.

All members are required to enroll with MTRS and make mandatory pretax contributions through payroll deductions. Members contribute a percentage of their earnings based on the date they were hired and when they joined the public employee retirement system:

Date Hired

Contribution Rate

Before January 1, 1975

5%

January 1, 1975 through December 31, 1978

7%

January 1, 1979 through December 31, 1983

7%, plus 2% on earnings over $30,000

January 1, 1984 through June 30, 1996

8%, plus 2% on earnings over $30,000

July 1, 1996 through June 30, 2001

9%, plus 2% on earnings over $30,000

July 1, 2001 through April 1, 2012

11%

April 2, 2012 through present

11% (reduced by 3% after 30 years of service)

 

Based on a member’s age, length of service, and average salary, retirement allowance benefits can be up to 80% of the average of the member’s three highest-paid consecutive years of service (if the member was hired before April 12, 2012) or the average of the five highest-paid consecutive years of service (if the member was hired thereafter).

Governance

Section 50 of Chapter 7 of the General Laws governs how public employee retirement systems are overseen and regulated by the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC). Sections 1 through 5 of Title 840 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations governs the administrative procedures, financial operations, recordkeeping, and reports required of public employee retirement systems.

As part of its oversight, PERAC performs periodic reviews of records of all retirement systems at least once every three years. PERAC also provides training, as well as legal and technical assistance, to retirement boards.

MTRS files an annual report with PERAC for each fiscal year (which ends on June 30) on or before December 31 of the following fiscal year. The report shows MTRS’s assets and liabilities, as well as statistical information regarding membership, audit findings, the most recent actuarial valuation,4 the system’s investment portfolio, and any other pertinent information that PERAC deems appropriate. MTRS’s disbursements for annuities and pensions for July 2017 through June 2019 were as follows.

 

July 2017–June 2018

July 2018–June 2019

MTRS Disbursements—Gross

$3,123,875,940

$3,235,508,937

Less: Refunds, Transfers, and Reimbursements

(187,167,100)

(208,386,577)

MTRS Disbursements—Net

$2,936,708,840

$3,027,122,360

 

The Pension Reserves Investment Management Board manages and invests MTRS member contributions; these funds are held in a trust fund known as the Pension Reserves Investment Trust (PRIT). MTRS’s annual reports for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 listed the following investment values as of June 30, 2018 and June 30, 2019.

 

As of June 30, 2018

As of June 30, 2019

MTRS Investment in PRIT Capital Fund

$28,559,010,612

$29,318,664,851

MTRS Investment in PRIT Cash Fund

29,048,393

46,828,674

Total MTRS Investments

$28,588,059,005

$29,365,493,525

 

Retirement benefits that members will eventually receive have two parts: an annuity and a pension. The annuity consists of contributions deducted during employment; the pension is the difference between the total retirement allowance specified by law and the amount of a member’s contributions and related investment earnings.

Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement Board

In accordance with Section 16 of Chapter 15 of the General Laws, MTRS is administered by an unpaid seven-member board made up of the following members:

  • Commissioner of Education or his/her designee, chairperson
  • State Treasurer and Receiver General or his/her designee
  • State Auditor or his/her designee
  • Governor’s designee, who must be a retired teacher
  • two members elected by the active and retired members of MTRS
  • one member elected by the other six members of the board

Each member serves a four-year term, except the Commissioner of Education, the State Treasurer, and the State Auditor, who serve as long as they are in office. According to MTRS’s website,

The Board, which meets at least once a month,

  • votes on every disability retirement allowance,
  • investigates all claims for accidental and ordinary disabilities,
  • establishes the rules and regulations of the agency, and
  • oversees the dissemination of services and information to its membership of more than 93,000 active educators and over 66,000 retirees and survivors.

MTRS maintains offices in Charlestown and Springfield to administer and implement its policies. According to its annual report, as of June 30, 2019 there were 90 permanent full-time and 12 permanent part-time employees serving MTRS members.

Retirement Application Process

For eligible members, the retirement process begins with the submission of a retirement application. MTRS reviews submitted applications and groups them based on how many days before the retirement dates they were received. If necessary, MTRS Member Services Department counselors meet or correspond with applicants to ensure that application data are complete. When an application is complete, a Member Services Department retirement analyst enters data, such as applicant date of birth, retirement option selection (see Appendix), beneficiary data, salary, years of service, and final contribution amount, in MTRS’s benefit administration system (which is called MyTRS) and verifies the application as complete and accurate. Once MTRS has received and verified all required data, certain applications are subject to a quality review audit and recalculation by a Member Services Department manager based on specific risk criteria. For instance, such reviews are conducted for applications from administrators whose pay is not determined by a collective bargaining agreement, members who may be entitled to benefits from multiple retirement systems, and retirees who are entitled to enhanced benefits because they have been members of the system for 30 or more years. Next, letters known as notices of estimated retirement benefits, or first pay letters, are sent to new retirees; they list the details of retirement, including service dates, average salary (average of the member’s three or five highest-paid consecutive years of service), and initial payment amounts.

MTRS processes approximately 2,500 retirements annually. The retirement application recommends planning for retirement at least six months in advance and then filing the application three to four months before the retirement date. According to MTRS management, applications are processed in 75 to 120 days, and the earlier an application is submitted, the quicker first payments can be made after the retirement date. Section 13(1)(b) of Chapter 32 of the General Laws states that first payment must be made “on the last day of the month following the month in which . . . such . . . pension . . . becomes effective.” Depending on the day of the month when a retirement occurs, payment can be due in 28 to 62 days.

Benefit Payment Adjustments

Each year some retirements are processed before the finalization of information needed to accurately calculate monthly pension benefits. In many instances, the best information available at processing time is used to calculate monthly benefits. Primary causes for using this information include the timing of the finalized monthly deduction amounts that school districts report to MTRS and pending service purchases5 where service times have not yet been verified. MTRS chooses to pay estimated benefits to retirees when MTRS management deems it necessary to do so; once the necessary information is finalized, MTRS amends the monthly pension benefit amount and makes adjustments in initial calculations.

Certain types of retirements are more likely to be adjusted and are routinely reviewed to determine what adjustments may be required. This can happen because of the complexity of calculations. It occurs with Option B (annuity protection) retirements, where MTRS reduces the monthly benefit payments by 0.25% until accurate actuarial data are available. It also occurs with dual-membership retirements, governed by Section 3(8)(c) of Chapter 32 of the General Laws; in these cases, amounts may be due from other retirement systems but not readily determined. Adjustments to monthly benefits are processed by the Benefit Adjustment and Finalization Unit (BAFU), a subgroup within the MTRS Finance and Reporting Department.

As revised or new information for previously processed retirements is received or certain complex retirements are designated for review, adjustments in MyTRS are assigned to BAFU service representatives for processing. All adjustments are reviewed by the BAFU senior coordinator for accuracy and completeness after they are processed.

3.     Teachers employed by the City of Boston are members of the Boston Retirement System.

4.     An actuarial valuation is a statement of future values of pension assets and liabilities based on certain assumptions, including pensioner demographics.

5.     Service purchases are purchases of creditable service time by members for previous employment where annuity contributions have not been paid. Examples include municipal or Commonwealth employment, non-public school teaching, out-of-state public school teaching, and repurchased service time that was previously refunded.

Date published: October 14, 2021
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