A plan to cap payouts for sick pay when longtime teachers retire provoked a polite uprising last night by the Payson Unified School District’s teachers.
About 50 teachers crowded into the board room Monday night to object to a plan to cap sick time payouts for teachers who leave after more than 10 years.
The board promptly blinked — tabling a motion to cap payments that board members had all supported in two previous public discussions of the proposal. Board member Kim Pound recommended tabling the motion until the administration presents more complete budget figures, including sacrifices that will affect non-teaching employees — who make up more than half the district’s employees.
“I want to look at all the numbers before we make a decision,” said Pound, who had supported the policy change in previous discussions. “I’d like to see if we can save money in other areas.”
“But tonight we’re talking about sick leave,” said Board Chairman Barbara Underwood.
“We can table it,” said Board Member Rory Huff, who had presented his own plan to cap sick day payouts at 40 days.
Teachers who attended spoke passionately against the proposal.
“Do not repay faithfulness with faithlessness by revoking this retirement benefit,” said Carmelita Lock, a third-grade teacher. “People who are retiring are counting on that benefit.”
Wayne Gorry, a 5th-grade teacher, presented a compromise proposal on behalf of the district’s teachers. That proposal would allow teachers to keep the payouts they’ve already earned under the current policy, cap the accumulation at 150 hours for current teachers and limit the payout to 100 hours for teachers hired in the future. He said only four teachers in the district right now have accumulated more than 150 hours of unused sick time.
Under Gorry’s proposal, once teachers reach the cap, they would get paid for half of the excess unused sick days at the end of each year, which would provide a continued incentive for teachers to not use their sick time.
When Gorry asked how many teachers would support the proposal, everyone in the packed board chamber stood up.
The teacher’s plan would cap most sick leave payouts at about $12,000 for teachers with 150 hours of accumulated sick leave. Only four teachers currently have more than 150 hours and under the teacher’s plan they could still collect that money when they retire. Newly hired teachers would be capped at 100 hours — or about $8,000 after 20 years.
Gorry said that while Wall Street bankers who crashed the economy and wrecked pension funds have collected their multi-million-dollar bonuses, teachers are among those who have born the brunt of the recession facing layoffs, going three years without a raise and now facing a pay cut as a result of state budget proposals that would eliminate incentive pay for extra training.
“Teachers are wondering, when will enough be enough?” said Gorry. “We strongly believe that employees should be given what they’ve earned.”
However, Huff said the district cannot afford to continue the current policy. If all the teachers and administrators in the district retired today, the district would owe about $325,000 in sick leave payouts to teachers and administrators and another $100,000 in payments to administrators for unused vacation time. Teachers don’t get any vacation time, since they’re off during the summer.
Huff said the projected payout represented an “unfunded liability” the district cannot afford to pay. “I wish we could all leave here happy, but I think we will leave here dismayed,” said Huff.
Currently, teachers get 7 to 9 sick days each year plus three personal leave days. They accumulate any unused sick days from year to year, which they can use in the event of a major illness. If they quit or get laid off after 10 years, they get paid for a certain percentage of those unused sick days. After 20 years, they get paid for 100 percent of the accumulated sick days at the substitute rate — about $80 a day.
The district originally adopted the policy so it could compete with other districts for teachers notoriously difficult to lure to Payson. The policy also provided an incentive for teachers to not use their sick days, since the district has to then hire a substitute for the day. Under the current system, the district often minimizes the use of substitutes by giving sick time credit to teachers who give up their prep period to cover a class for a sick colleague.