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, §1. However, other sections of Chapter 32, Chapter 71 §89(y), as well as the MTRS regulation on membership eligibility also set out criteria for membership. 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.

Employers’ responsibilities

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.

Defining “teacher”

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.

Employment requirements

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 who falls below half-time is no longer eligible for membership in the MTRS). 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 regulation (807 CMR 4.00), which states:

(1) No individual shall be eligible for membership within the retirement system unless the retirement board finds:

(a) 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;

(b) The contractual agreement requires not less than half-time service;

(c) The individual holds a certificate granted by the board of education, has been granted a waiver pending certification by the board of education, or has been approved as an apprentice teacher in accordance with the provision of St. 1985, c. 188, 21; and,

(d) The individual has a contractual agreement which requires that the individual be certified by the board of education as a condition of employment.

When applying the above four eligibility criteria, please note:

  • Certification must be required as a condition of employment–it cannot simply be preferred–and the employee must possess the certification that is required. If the employee has been granted a certification waiver by the ESE, the MTRS acknowledges this as the equivalent of being certified.
  • Teachers who are pending certification, and who qualify as apprentices, are conditionally accepted for the duration of their qualified apprenticeship program (usually one year).
  • Employees must remain working at least half-time to remain eligible for MTRS membership.
  • 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 or teachers, and nurses, are eligible for the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System if, and only if, they meet the eligibility criteria above.

Special cases

Charter school employees

Membership eligibility for charter school employees is slightly different from that for non-charter school employees.

  • Charter school teachers are eligible for MTRS membership pursuant to Chapter 71, and do not have to be ESE certified [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 certification in non-charter schools where a member is required to work on at least a half-time basis.
  • Charter School Directors (Superintendents), principals and other positions eligible by title in non-charter schools are still eligible by title for MTRS membership.
  • Atypical titles and job descriptions should be reviewed for membership eligibility by the MTRS charter school representative.

NOTE: Virtual school employee eligibility is determined similarly to that 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.”

Long-term substitutes

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 three most common reasons that a long-term substitute may not be eligible for MTRS membership are:

  • 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 certification 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.