School board revises deferred-retirement rules


Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 4:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 4:17 p.m.

Public school employees who are now collecting both a pension and a salary will have a maximum of two years before they must retire, including one year at a lower salary, the school board has decided.

Under Alachua County Public Schools’ contract with a company called DES of Florida, certain employees are allowed to enter a deferred-retirement program. They then can be re-hired into the same district position but they will be paid by DES for a year using money from the school district.

After the first year, the school district pays the employee’s salary while the employee continues collecting retirement benefits.

The program is necessary, officials say, to keep key employees in place through critical projects or when there’s no suitable replacement. The arrangement was never meant to be indefinite, they said.

However, the lack of a time limit has kept a few such employees on the district’s payroll for nearly a decade, some earning salaries upward of $90,000 while also collecting a pension.

The issue has split the School Board’s opinion for more than six months.

Board chairman Gunnar Paulson and Eileen Roy argued it is an unfair system that has crushed younger employees’ ability to rise to the top ranks while also being an unnecessary financial drain on the already cash-strapped district.

Carol Oyenarte and April Griffin opposed proposals to place DES employees at the midpoint of the salary schedule (averaging about $45,000), saying the pay cut would be a hardship for the employees.

The board recently requested a breakdown of potential savings from the district’s finance department. The department found that the district would have saved $492,069 since 2010 if employees rehired by DES before 2011 had been returned to the midpoint of the salary schedule.

Employees hired back post-DES after 2011 have already been placed at the midpoint. Staff attorney Brian Moore said that a few years ago, there were as many as 14 post-DES employees collecting a full salary on the top end of the schedule. That number has been cut to five this year.

The projected savings to the district for the 2014-15 school year is $63,010.

The board finally settled on a compromise last week. Pre-2011 DES employees will continue to receive full pay in the 2014-15 school year, but will be returned to the midpoint of the salary schedule for the following year, 2015-16. The employees must retire by the end of the 2015-16 school year and can’t come back.

“There has to be a limit,” Paulson said.

The board agreed to keep DES employees at their regular salaries in the upcoming year because members had tabled their decision for so many months that they were worried the employees would be blindsided by a pay cut.

Griffin said the school district needs to do a better job of training people so that there are employees to come behind the ones retiring out of post-DES positions.

“These are positions that require a lot of expertise and ability to work with parents,” she said.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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