A new law offering teachers early retirement could well reduce the pressure for layoffs. But there remain big question marks, such as the law's ultimate cost.

Signed by Gov. David A. Paterson last week, it temporarily lowers the retirement age for non-New York City teachers to 55 from 62, with a minimum of 25 years on the job. Some 6,000 employees from K-12 are eligible: 5,000 in the Teachers Retirement System and 1,000 in the state's general pension fund. About 1,200 are eligible on Long Island.

There's a 90-day window, ending in August, for would-be retirees to sign on. The law also requires that later this year, SUNY and community college employees be made the same offer.

This seems like a win all around. School districts could retain younger teachers at lower salaries. Already, because of state budget cuts, layoff estimates have been announced: 260 teachers in Brentwood, 111 employees in Central Islip, 150 employees at William Floyd.

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The cost of adding these early retirees to the $68-billion teachers' pension system is roughly $15.5 million a year. No one knows the potential savings, but on the plus side, new hires must contribute more toward their own pensions.

Pension costs already threaten to send school budgets - and property taxes - through the roof. Let's hope there are substantial savings in jobs and salaries in return. hN