OPERS helps employees $ave

Jessica Sprowl

Sue Stuart, Kent State University Dining Services employee of 14 years, rings up Abby Drake, sophomore early childhood education major. After 14 years, Stuart still enjoys her job because of her fellow employees and the students who come through the cafet

Credit: Ben Breier

Students who have worked on campus during the summer have more than likely contributed to the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System.

OPERS provides retirement, disability and survivor benefit programs for public employees throughout the state who are not covered by another state or local retirement system, according to www.opers.org.

The system currently services more than 3,700 public employers and has assets exceeding $64 billion.

“If you are a student and you work for a public school system, college or university, you have an option of paying into OPERS,” said Richard Baker, OPERS senior media relations officer.

However, there is one change this year. Starting in January 2006, staff employees will have to contribute 9 percent of their paychecks to OPERS instead of the previous 8.5 percent, said Lisa Heilman, Kent State’s payroll manager. And the university will pay 13.54 percent into OPERS instead of the 13.31 percent it is paying now.

Students who work for the university have an option – but are not required – to contribute to OPERS during summer employment. Students at a half-time status- six credit hours or less for undergraduates and four or less credit hours for graduates- can contribute 9 percent of their summer paychecks to OPERS.

Students may not work for the university during the fall and spring semesters if they do not meet the required credit hour enrollment, Heilman said.

“If a student employee drops below half-time status during the academic year, we (payroll) have to go back to the beginning of the semester and take out the 9 percent from each paycheck for OPERS from their final paycheck,” Heilman said. “Then the student will not be able to work for the university for the rest of the semester.”

Students may, however, request an exemption form for OPERS within the first month of working for the university and not pay into OPERS if desired, Baker said.

If students have not filled out exemption forms for OPERS and wish to receive a refund, payroll has forms for students to fill out, which then takes 90 days for the check to be delivered, Heilman said.

“There is no right or wrong way to handle your OPERS money,” Baker said.

All members of OPERS can now check their personal accounts on line at any time to see how much they have, he said.

For students who will be working for the state when they graduate, they will already have a head start for their retirement.

Also, if somewhere down the line a former student begins to work for the state, they can purchase their years of OPERS exemption back and the money can be added to their retirement plan, Baker said.

Other than faculty – who contribute to the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) – and students, all other staff members of Kent State must contribute to OPERS year-round, Heilman said.

Sue Stuart, cashier for the Student Center Second Floor Dining Room, has 14 years worth of money paid into OPERS and about three years worth contributed to STRS. Both of these retirement systems will combine into one when Stuart decides to retire, she said.

“It (OPERS) was something that was there and they would take it out of my paycheck,” she said. “It was my first pension plan.”

Because of this, with about five and a half years left before retirement, Stuart will be able to retire after 20 years of work with about 25 years worth of retirement money.

Stuart laughed when she said she wants to retire in five and a half years, but says she probably will not.

“I will wait and see what my husband does, if he retires or not.”

Stuart’s husband, Bert, also works for the university as a housekeeper.

Bert Stuart has been working at Kent and contributing to OPERS for about four and a half years and plans on retiring in about another five years.

Stuart plans on putting his OPERS money either towards his retirement or on a down payment for a car.

“Don’t be in a hurry to take out your OPERS, you don’t know what the future will bring,” he said.

Contact features correspondent Jessica Sprowl at [email protected].