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Teachers could get early pensions

May 30, 2003|By PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education is offering early retirement to about 128 eligible teachers, a move that could save Washington County Public Schools $600,000, William Blum, the school system's chief operating officer, said.

Blum estimated that about 64 of the 128 teachers who qualify will take the school system up on the one-time-only offer.

"In difficult times, one needs to get creative," Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

Blum said this is the first time the school system has offered early retirement. The offer will be in effect only until July 1 to teachers who are within two years of meeting the school system's requirements to retire, he said.

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"So many teachers are looking forward to retirement," Blum said. "This gives them those benefits a few years early."

The school system uses a formula to determine the cost of health care premiums at retirement: The age of the employee plus the number of years the employee has spent in the system must add to at least 85 for retirees to receive health care benefits.

Teachers who take advantage of the offer would receive up to two years credit toward the "85" formula, a $2,000 retirement bonus and be eligible to be rehired at a 13-year teacher's pay.

School system spokeswoman Carol Mowen said the mid-range pay scale for a 13-year teacher is $44,000, while the mid-range pay scale for a 25-year teacher is $56,902.

Teachers who give notice of retirement at the beginning of the school year already receive an $850 bonus because their early notice gives the school system time to find their replacements, Blum said.

Teachers who already have said they would retire this year would be eligible for the $2,000 bonus, he said.

Blum said if those retired teachers return to teach, the school system would not have to pay for their health insurance because it would be covered through their retirement pay.

He estimated that about 17 of the eligible teachers who opt to retire would return to the classroom.

Blum said the incentive was not meant to weed out teachers who do not meet the highly qualified teacher requirement mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind act. The act requires "unqualified" teachers to go back to school to get more degrees or to take additional tests.

The act is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and to make sure all students, including disadvantaged groups, are academically proficient.

"We believe there are a number of senior teachers stressed out about the highly qualified requirement," said School Board member Jacqueline Fisher. "I think that would be a further incentive."

Fisher, a retired teacher, said if she still taught in the school system she would take the offer.

She said she thinks teachers who are waiting to reach the "85" number will take advantage of the offer, but that teachers who enjoy their jobs or still have children to send through college probably will stay in school.

Blum said a number of teachers have called to express interest in the offer.

"I hate to see us lose the experienced teachers," Fisher said. "They have a lot to offer."

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