Critics pan schools’ open-ended deferred retirement policy
Published: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 6:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 6:50 p.m.
The School Board is taking another look at its policy of allowing certain employees to retire, then be rehired, earning a salary and a pension at the same time.
Under Alachua County schools’ contract with Tallahassee-based DES of Florida, an employee can complete a deferred-retirement program, then be hired back into the same position by DES, which pays the employee’s salary for one year.
After one year, the school district continues to pay the employee’s salary while the employee continues collecting retirement benefits.
But unlike the Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, there’s no limit on how long DES employees can keep working for the district, which has some people up in arms.
“I want to be clear. I’m not against hiring retired people back,” School Board chairman Gunnar Paulson said during a recent workshop on the issue.
But, he said, it’s financially irresponsible for the district to keep paying those employees at the top of the salary schedule, especially if there’s no limit on how long they can continue working.
“We’re in a position where we have to find dollars anywhere and put them where we need them,” Paulson said.
Any employee in the school district can go through DROP if approved for the program.
DROP allows an employee to work for five years while simultaneously drawing retirement benefits. Teachers are eligible for a three-year extension, for a total of eight years in extended DROP.
DES contracts were formerly open to administrators only. In June 2012, Paulson said, the School Board opened up DES to non-instructional personnel so the program could be offered to air-conditioning technicians and computer programmers, for example.
But there are two problems with the system, Paulson says.
The first is fiscal irresponsibility.
As of the 2009 school year, teachers hired back after finishing extended DROP are placed at the middle of the pay schedule.
Paulson said in 2012 he called for a similar arrangement, in which DES would pay the employee his or her most recent salary for one year. That employee then would be paid at the midpoint of the salary schedule for a maximum of two years. Then they would have to retire for good.
Paulson said he was told it was too late in the budgeting process to make changes.
Currently, DES employees return to work for the same salary they were earning before DES — often upwards of $90,000, Paulson said.
By putting DES employees back at the midpoint of the salary schedule, he said, those principals and district employees could still be making $75,000 a year — while pulling retirement benefits — which is a good deal for them, but also saves money for the district.
As of Friday, 329 Alachua County school employees were enrolled in DROP, according to information provided by the district.
Of the 329, 37 employees are on DROP extension. Five district employees are on DES.
School Board member Eileen Roy echoed Paulson’s concerns on the financial aspect of DES contracts.
Keeping employees on for several years without an end date undermines the goal of DROP, she said, which encourages top administrators to retire.
And that’s the other problem. If administrators put off retirement indefinitely, how can younger employees move up through the ranks?
The system that’s in place stifles the development of those younger employees, Paulson said.
Right now, the School Board is in the research phase, finding out how much indefinitely-employed DES employees have cost the school district.
Paulson estimates the district could’ve saved about a million dollars by hiring back DES employees at the midpoint of the salary schedule and terminating them after their third year back.
“We could’ve paid bonuses to people in low-performing schools,” he said.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.