Statutory and regulatory authority governing membership
The MTRS is a pension plan qualified under IRC section 401(a) and established in Massachusetts by M.G.L. c. 32, §2. Eligibility for membership in the MTRS is primarily determined by the definition of “teacher” in M.G.L. c. 32 (primarily Section 1) and the MTRS regulation on membership eligibility also set out criteria for membership. Additionally, other provisions of Commonwealth law, such as Chapter 71 §89(y), provide a pathway to MTRS membership even for individuals who might not satisfy this initial eligibility criteria. This information is provided as a resource for employers Massachusetts public school districts, charter and virtual schools and educational collaboratives to help school administrators determine their employees’ eligibility for MTRS membership. It is not a substitute for the General Laws or MTRS regulations.
Massachusetts public employers are required to:
- REGISTER all eligible full-time employees, and most part-time employees, in a local, regional or state retirement system when they are hired for employment.
- RE-EVALUATE an employee’s retirement system membership any time there is a significant change in the individual’s employment status or position. If there are any changes in an MTRS member’s status or position, employers are required to notify the MTRS within 30 days of the change [M.G.L. c. 32, §3(2)(g)].
Using MyTRS, our online reporting system, MTRS employers have nearly 24/7 access to register newly eligible employees and update the status of current employees.
Which system should the employee be enrolled in: the MTRS or the local system?
All “teachers” are required to be enrolled in the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System except teachers who are employed by the Boston Public Schools.
Employees who are not “teachers” must be enrolled in another contributory retirement system, or, if they are not eligible for any such system, in an OBRA plan.
Persons considered “teachers” in a public school district, collaborative, charter school or virtual school are eligible for membership in the MTRS.
Exactly who qualifies as a “teacher” is a matter of statutory and regulatory definition, but below are some guidelines.
Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 32, §1, for purposes of MTRS membership eligibility, a “teacher” must be employed:
- by a public school or school system, and
- on a basis of not less than half-time service. A member’s half-time status can be achieved by totaling the employment basis among multiple employers. For example, an individual who works 20% with one employer and 40% with another, has a total employment basis of 60% and, thus, meets the half-time employment requirement.
Positions that qualify for membership based on title alone
Individuals holding certain positions are eligible for membership based on their titles alone, because certain position titles are included in the statutory definition of “teacher”; however, they must still meet both employment requirements, above.
Position titles that are eligible for membership by definition are:
- School psychologist
- School psychiatrist
- School adjustment counselor
- School social worker appointed under Chapter 71, §46G
- Director of occupational guidance and placement appointed under Chapter 71, §38A or §38D
- Principal (also, assistant principal)
- Supervisor* or superintendent in any public school (also, assistant superintendent)
- Supervisor* or teacher of adult civic education
* A “supervisor” is generally considered to be a person who supervises other “teachers.”
Individuals with other titles are NEVER DISQUALIFIED FROM MEMBERSHIP BASED SOLELY ON THEIR TITLES; rather, their eligibility is determined pursuant to our membership eligibility regulation, as described below.
Evaluating positions that do not qualify for membership based on title alone
For positions not specifically listed above, the eligibility criteria are supplied by our membership eligibility and continued membership regulation (807 CMR 4.00) as shown below.
807-4.01: Purpose of Standard Rules; Retirement Board Policy
The purpose of 807 CMR 4.00 is to establish uniform criteria and procedures to be applied by the Retirement Board in determining an individual’s initial eligibility for membership within the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System (“MTRS”); under what circumstances a separation from service occurs; and continued membership for those who, though still members in service, no longer meet the statutory definition of “Teacher.” The retirement board shall assist all public school teachers and administrators in obtaining all rights and benefits authorized by M.G.L. c. 32 while protecting the retirement system from liability not authorized by law.
Teacher Position: A “teacher position” means regular employment, on at least a half-time basis, in a position that satisfies the MTRS’ eligibility criteria at 807 CMR 4.02. A “teacher position” shall not include day-to-day or short-term employment.
Day-to-day Employment: Employment on a day-to-day basis means any employment on an intermittent basis. Day-to-day employment is not regular employment.
Short-term Employment: Short-term employment is substitute, part-time, temporary or seasonal employment of less than six calendar months’ duration.
Separation from Service: “Separation from service” for a teacher occurs at the moment they cease to be regularly employed in a teacher position with their employer. This occurs upon:
(a) Their resignation from that employer;
(b) Their failure to be re-elected or re-appointed in a teacher position by that employer;
(c) Their removal or discharge from their position;
(d) Their commencement of service in a position other than a teacher position;
(e) Their commencement of day-to-day or short-term employment;
(f) The beginning of any period of an authorized unpaid leave of absence beyond one year, which is not:
(i) Leave that is due to mental or physical incapacity for duty or to permit such member to perform their duties as a member of a retirement board, as provided for in M.G.L. c. 32, § 3, or
(ii) Leave to serve as a representative of an employee organization, as provided for in M.G.L. c. 32, § 28K;
(g) Their retirement.
For purposes of determining whether there has been a separation from service, an existing member of the MTRS, employed under a 10 month, or school year contract, will not be considered separated from service during the summer months between school years so long as they return to regular employment in a teacher position with their same employer, beginning with the start of the next school year.
807-4.02: Eligibility Criteria
(1) No individual shall be eligible for membership within the retirement system unless the retirement board finds:
(a) The individual holds a license granted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”), or has been granted a waiver pending licensure by the DESE;
(b) The individual is covered by a contractual agreement for employment with one or more school committees or boards of trustees or by any combination of such committees and boards;
(c) The contractual agreement requires not less than half-time service as a teacher, as defined in M.G.L. c. 32 and clarified herein; and
(d) The contractual agreement requires that the individual be licensed by the DESE as a condition of employment.
(2) In addition to those individuals determined to be eligible pursuant to 807 CMR 4.02(1), the following individuals shall be deemed eligible for membership:
(a) Individuals who hold a license granted by the DESE and are employed on the basis of not less than half-time as the director of an educational collaborative as organized and approved under the provisions of M.G.L. c. 40, § 4E;
(b) Individuals employed, pursuant to a contractual agreement, on at least a half-time basis as a teacher by a Massachusetts public charter school, an innovation school, or Quincy College. Because “teachers” in these entities are members of the MTRS irrespective of any provision of Chapter 32, a “teacher” in these entities is hereby defined as one who either holds the title of teacher, meets all four of the eligibility criteria set forth in 807 CMR 4.02(1) above, or works in a position that would be eligible for MTRS membership if it were performed in a Massachusetts public school;
(c) Any member in service of the MTRS whose employment status becomes less than half-time without an intervening separation from service as defined in 807 CMR 4.01(1) above. For example, a full-time teacher whose position in the same district is reduced to forty percent.
(1) Enrollment. Any individual satisfying the eligibility criteria in 807 CMR 4.02, who enters into a contractual agreement for employment with a school committee or board of trustees shall file for enrollment, in the form prescribed by the MTRS, within 30 days of becoming eligible for membership.
Additional notes on our membership eligibility and continued membership regulation:
- Licensure must be required as a condition of employment–it cannot simply be preferred–and the employee must possess the license that is required. If the employee has been granted a licensure waiver by the DESE, the MTRS acknowledges this as the equivalent of being licensed during the period covered by the waiver.
- Teachers who are pending licensure are conditionally accepted for the duration of their qualified application period (usually one year).
- For the purpose of membership eligibility, the employer contract does not have to be a written contract.
- All positions not specifically mentioned in this summary, including BCBAs, Athletic Directors, ROTC instructors, and nurses, are eligible for the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System if, and only if, they meet the eligibility criteria in (807 CMR 4.00).
Charter school employees
Membership eligibility for charter school employees is slightly different from that for non-charter school employees.
- Charter school employees who meet all of the membership qualifications in (807 CMR 4.00) are eligible in a charter school just as in any Massachusetts public school.
- Charter school teachers are eligible for MTRS membership pursuant to Chapter 71, and do not have to be DESE licensed [M.G.L. c. 71, §89(y)] so long as they meet the other requirements for being employed as a charter school teacher.
- As a general rule, a charter school “teacher” is any position that typically requires licensure in non-charter schools where a member is required to work on at least a half-time basis.
- Directors (superintendents), principals and other positions that are eligible for MTRS membership by title in non-charter schools are also eligible by title in charter schools.
- Charter schools are required to submit to the MTRS the job description for any position other than teacher or the positions listed in c. 32, § 1 for for membership eligibility determination.
NOTE: Virtual school employee eligibility is subject to all of the same rules as for individuals in non-charter schools.
Part-time, temporary and provisional employees (6-month wait period)
Part-time, temporary and provisional employees are subject to a 6-month wait before being enrolled in the MTRS [M.G.L. c. 32, §3(2)(iv)]. If, however, they have prior MTRS service or funds on account with another Massachusetts contributory retirement system, they are not subject to the 6-month wait.
As a matter of practice, the MTRS does not consider employees hired with no anticipated termination date, or with an anticipated termination date after 7 months or more, as “temporary.”
Employees who are considered “long-term substitutes” are eligible for MTRS membership if they meet the four eligibility criteria stated above, in our membership eligibility regulation.
The four most common reasons that a long-term substitute may not be eligible for MTRS membership are:
- The long-term sub position may be for 6-months or less and as such is considered Short Term Employment as defined in (807 CMR 4.00) as described above.
- Because they are temporary, long-term subs may be subject to the 6-month wait period explained above, and may not work enough days to qualify for membership.
- The employer does not require DESE licensure as a condition of employment at the position level for long-term subs.
- A long-term sub working on a day-to-day basis without any sort of defined employment period is not working “on an employment basis” of at least half-time.
Last updated: 08/29/2022