The millions of people born in the post-World War II years are hurtling toward retirement, putting a strain on Social Security and entire business sectors.
And the Lawrence school district is poised to see its own exodus of baby boomers: 38 percent of the district's nearly 1,000 teachers and administrators are eligible to retire.
In a span of several weeks in late August and early September, the district saw three top administrators announce their retirements.
And more - including South Junior High School teacher Mary Ann Henry - are expected to join them. Henry joined the district in 1970 as a sixth-grade teacher at Kennedy School. A short stint teaching at Kansas University prefaced her return to public schools, where today she is an interrelated resource room teacher at South. Henry said she will miss coming to the classroom every day.
"I don't know how I'll survive without it," she said.
Henry, who works with disabled students, simply felt it was time to retire.
"There's no particular reason," said Henry, who has been a teacher since 1963. "I absolutely love the people I teach with. I'm passionate about teaching. I love the kids."
She's like many of her generation, who are eyeing the future and looking back on an entire career.
With more than a third of Lawrence public school teachers and administrators at age 50 or above, the district soon may face its own silver tsunami, or perhaps a veteran vacuum.
"Certainly, in the next five years or so, I think every school in the state is going to see some significant numbers of people who will retire," said David Cunningham, one of the district's human resources directors. "Broadly speaking, I was at a conference last year in Kansas City. : I was looking around and realizing this crop of people won't be at this convention in five years."
The district already is working to fill a major void that will be created in June with the retirements of Superintendent Randy Weseman, Deputy Superintendent Bruce Passman and Chief Operations Officer Mary Rodriguez.
"It was inevitable," Weseman said. "In some sense, you're always going to face that in an organization as big as ours."
Cunningham expects a good chunk of retirement-eligible educators to stick around, however. Most can't afford to retire at 50, and some, like Henry, don't necessarily want to. Twenty-eight teachers retired last year; Weseman expects similar numbers this year.
A fluid system
The number of teachers eligible to retire sounds overwhelming. But Cunningham said the district's practice of recruiting teachers of varying experience alleviates the void of experienced teachers' departures.
"In theory, it shouldn't have any major impact because the systems are in place to maintain the quality education that we have in place right now," he said. "We're not going to have 100 percent turnover in a building or in a district."
Annually, he said, the district routinely hires about 100 people - a mix of novice and experienced educators - to replace employees who have retired or moved to other jobs.
Lawrence school board member Linda Robinson said it's impossible for Lawrence schools to stave off boomers migrating toward retirement. But Lawrence has its perks, which could bridge the gap between retirement and recruitment.
The city's proximity to metropolitan areas, as well as the district's commitment to professional development through mentoring and coaching programs give Lawrence a recruiting cushion other public school systems don't have, Robinson said.
But the retirement question lingers from Lawrence to Liberal.
"I think it's not just a Lawrence issue. That's a statewide issue," Robinson said.
In meetings with other Kansas school board members, Robinson said it's clear retirements will hurt other parts of the state, especially rural areas in western Kansas.
Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of the Kansas State Department of Education, said 25 percent of teachers could retire within the next five years. And that's one of the department's major concerns.
"The Legislature has been made aware of this potential issue," he said.
Dennis said the education department's pension division is writing up recommendations to present to legislators outlining plans to alleviate the potential teacher crunch, already compounded by a teacher shortage. He said some ideas under discussion include allowing retired teachers to work part time.
In August, he said, Kansas schools had 229 vacancies. That, however, is down from 497 vacancies two years ago.
"It's not just Kansas. It's across the country," Dennis said.
Teacher recruitment programs, as well as strong education programs at KU and Pittsburg State University, are paving the way for a new generation of teachers.
"The teachers coming out of the universities, they get better every year," he said. "The system's working quite well in that process."