School security officer return to work bills left in House Appropriations

February 26, 2019

Several bills this session sought to allow retired law-enforcement officers to continue to receive service retirement allowances through the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) during a subsequent period of employment by a local school division as a school security officer (SSO). These bills sought to incentivize the recruitment of these individuals with law-enforcement experience to increase the ability of a school division to provide security to students and staff. Current law limits retired law-enforcement officers to a maximum of 80 percent of full-time employment after qualifying for retirement.

As defined by code, a law enforcement officer means any full or part-time employee of a police department or sheriff’s office and any full or part-time employee of a private police department responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and the enforcement of penal, traffic, or highway laws of the Commonwealth.

An SSO is an individual who is employed by the local school board for the singular purpose of maintaining order and discipline, preventing crime, investigating violations of school board policies, and detaining students violating the law or school board policies on school property or at school-sponsored events and who is responsible solely for ensuring the safety, security, and welfare of all students, faculty, staff, and visitors in the assigned school. This is different from a school resource officer, who is an individual hired by local law-enforcement agency to provide security services at a school.

Testimony and debate on these bills focused on the potential fiscal impact to the state to implement changes to the retirement system, the potential to indirectly incentivize early retirement by local law-enforcement officers, and the potential to increase unfunded liability in VRS and add uncertainty to long-term planning.

The following bills were unanimously recommended to be laid on the table by the House Appropriations Committee’s Compensation & Retirement Subcommittee: HB 1631 (Leftwich), HB 1765 (Yancey), HB 2024 (Murphy), HB 2785 (Gilbert), SB 1023 (Cosgrove), SB 1203 (Stuart), SB 1582 (Suetterlein)

These bills are not entirely without precedent. In the face of Virginia’s teacher shortage, past General Assemblies have authorized the Superintendent of Public Instruction to annually identify and report critical shortages of teachers and administrative personnel and permits licensed retirees to teach full-time in critical shortage positions with the ability to receive full VRS benefits if certain other eligibility conditions are met. The provisions of this arrangement were extended to July 1, 2025, unanimously by the General Assembly via SB 1227 (Chase).

VACo Contact: Jeremy Bennett

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