Sunday, October 16, 2005

Something needs to change: rehirees' insurance still paid by STRS

"Superintendents agree that financial reasons are the motivation for hiring retired teachers. In fact, Narcisi said that action can save about $45,000 per year. Of that amount, $15,000 in savings comes from the health insurance being provided by the teacher's retirement plan."

Retired teachers head back to classroom

By APRIL HENRY, For The Times Leader

Although it is common for Ohio teachers to retire and then return to the classroom at a full-time status, West Virginia educators do not have the same option.

Shadyside Local School District Superintendent Jerry Narcisi said Ohio's laws allow for teachers to retire and return to full-time work after 60 days with no loss of benefits. Ohio Department of Education spokesman J.C. Benton confirmed that hiring retirees is legal.

Each Ohio school district, through its contract with the teachers' union, must set its own requirements when dealing with the specifics of retiring and returning to full-time work, Narcisi added.

For example, St. Clairsville-Richland City School District Treasurer Trevor Gummere said teachers can retire and receive a payment of $10,000 during the January after the last day of teaching. They then can return for one year at their previous full-time salary if the district decides to rehire, he explained.

"Any year after that, they come back as master's 10 (status)," Gummere added. "That's the pay scale position they stay at. They don't accrue seniority. They stay there until the district or the teacher makes a decision to discontinue employment."

Superintendents agree that financial reasons are the motivation for hiring retired teachers. In fact, Narcisi said that action can save about $45,000 per year. Of that amount, $15,000 in savings comes from the health insurance being provided by the teacher's retirement plan.

"It has the potential to save money because when you're hiring a person back who's retired, you normally hire them on a lower level of the pay scale," Narcisi explained. "There's a good chance you won't pay their insurance benefits. That would be huge savings."

Bridgeport Exempted Village School District Superintendent Mark Matz added that teachers in his district can reapply and teach for an unlimited amount of years as long as both parties still agree to the employment.

"Myself and the board (of education) have the final say on who, if any, gets hired back," he noted. "The problem is you don't want to lose good teachers. If you can entice them to come back and stay, they can draw full retirement, and there's a set number of years of experience that we pay for."
Despite this so-called "double dipping," Gummere said hiring retired teachers actually saves taxpayers money.

"Even if they were to retire and not come back, we still have to hire a teacher," he explained. "We don't know what status that teacher will have. Anyone who works in a school and is getting retirement, that comes off our state foundation. Essentially, the taxpayer's getting a cost savings."

Gummere also pointed out that new teachers often require training, which costs the district money as well.

"People are assets," he added. "You have to work with new teachers more than a retiree who knows what to do. We will hire a retired teacher because it requires less time. It is kind of a catch-22. You save money on salary (when hiring a new teacher), but how much do you really save because you have many other expenses?"

Ultimately, Narcisi and Matz concurred that they hire teachers on a case-by-case basis.

"The obvious is that if a teacher who retired was an absolutely top-notch, excellent teacher, I don't think a school district would mind one bit to hire that teacher back," Narcisi said. "You've got a known quantity in terms of that excellent teacher. On the other hand, if the teacher who retired was marginal, I think a school district should look elsewhere.

"When it comes to upper level math and science teachers, you can't find them walking around," he added. "Those are shortage areas. Therefore, you would probably hire a retired teacher in that area to come back and work."

Some young teachers who are qualified and are looking for full-time work, none of whom wished to provide a name, become frustrated when districts hire retired teachers.

"From my standpoint, there's nothing I can say to a young teacher out of college that will make them feel good about it," Matz noted. "If I can keep our top teachers, I'm going to do that and still cut my costs. We have to be financially sound. Normally, a school district will hire young people who have little or no experience. Hiring retirees gets two birds with one stone."

Meanwhile, West Virginia educators do not have the option of retiring and returning to the classroom on a full-time basis, according to Kathy Finsley, human resources director and general counsel for Ohio County Schools.

The West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board Web site states, "Any retiree, other than as a college teacher, who accepts employment for a relatively short period (no more than 120 days during the school year) is considered to be temporary and shall continue to receive his or her normal monthly benefits."

"They are allowed to substitute for a certain number of days, 120 days," Finsley said. "If they're in a critical shortage area, there is a policy that they are allowed to go as many as 140 days. They do not get hired back in full-time jobs. There are more limitations in West Virginia than in Ohio.

"Our retirees are not subbing more than 75-80 days," Finsley added. "Nobody is coming back here as a full-time person. West Virginia law doesn't allow it. We may have a situation where someone is retiring on a semester break, and we will hire a retiree for the rest of the year."

Currently, Ohio County Schools has two teachers who are employed as long-term substitutes until another certified teacher can be hired. This is the case with retired mathematics teacher Larry Koehrsen, who is employed as a long-term substitute at Wheeling Middle School.

"I taught in Ohio County for 35 years at Wheeling Junior High and Wheeling Middle," Koehrsen shared. "Now, I've been teaching kids in South Wheeling, Bethlehem and Mozart for 37 years. After I was here for a couple weeks (at the beginning of the school year), the administration extended it until January. They're hoping to find someone who graduates in December.

"I'm in my old classroom at the same school," he continued. "I still like the kids. Being around the kids keeps you feeling young. A teacher never really stops teaching."

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