The Payson school board discussed, but deferred a decision on whether to drastically cut a program that lets veteran teachers retire — then come back to work at a reduced salary.
The district instituted the policy several years ago when it was desperate to keep enough teachers — especially in hard-to-fill areas like science, math, English as a second language and special education.
The district’s policy allows experienced teachers to retire and collect a state pension that amounts to 50 to 70 percent of their salary, depending on their years of service. The retired teacher could then come back at 90 percent of their old salary.
However, the district has been laying off teachers for the last two years. So now board chairman Barbara Underwood wants to modify the incentive program to instead give any returning retirees the salary and benefits of an entry-level teacher — which in many cases might amount to a 50 percent pay cut — not counting the state pension.
“You would still be getting a super teacher, but you would not be paying them the salary they retired at,” said Underwood at the Monday night board meeting.
“I’d like to see the policy remain — teachers could still double dip, but at the entry teacher rate. It’s not that we don’t want you back, we want you back at a lower rate,” she said.
“Well, if they’re willing to do it at the lower rate, that would be fine,” said board member Barbara Shepherd.
Board member Rory Huff said the board adopted the policy when the district was having a hard time luring teachers to Payson, with relatively low salaries and a relatively high cost of living. “We were desperate to retain our experienced teachers because we were having a hard time getting teachers up here with the cost of living.”
Currently, six teachers and four classified staff members work for the district under the terms of the current policy, which the district instituted in 2003.
The board debated whether to reduce the rate to 80 percent, which would make the district comparable to most of the competing districts or to instead drop all the way down to the starting teacher rate.
Underwood said “my proposal would be to bring everyone back at the starting rate. So if they retired at $60,000 and the starting rate is $40,000 — you bring them back at $40,000.”
The average teacher salary in the district is $46,760, which is about $400 below the state average and about $3,400 below the national average.
The retirees would get their state pensions on top of whatever rate the board sets for the returnees. Superintendent Casey O’Brien said the state retirement system pays about 50 percent of their salary when workers accumulate 80 points — which is a combination of the years of service and the employee’s age. If they keep working beyond the 80 points, they continue to accumulate credits, which max out at about 70 percent of salary.
So for veteran teachers who retire with 80 points, the combination of the retirement pay and the entry-level pay for coming back might be about the same as their regular pay.
“Would anyone come back?” at the starting teacher salary, asked Shepherd. “It’s still a good rate,” said Underwood.
Board member Kim Pound said many teachers might want to come back just for the benefits, since working teachers get better benefits than retirees.
However, O’Brien expressed reservations about the timing of the proposal. Earlier in the evening, teachers had vigorously protested a proposal to cap payouts for sick days when they retire or get laid off.
“I see us moving again in a way that the reaction of employees is that we’re taking a step back,” said O’Brien. “I think 80 percent (of salary for returning retirees) is prudent: That’s what other districts are doing.”
“I really feel that if someone retires and comes back that we appreciate their years of service,” said Underwood, “but it’s hard to do when we can get a starting teacher making $30,000.”