Saturday, June 2nd, 2012
Ongoing debate of Retire - rehire
Educators' rights double taxpayers' burden
By Shelley Grieshop
It's a term that continues to stir debate over the right of Ohio's public employees to retire and return to work while pocketing a taxpayer-funded pension and salary. The majority of workers taking advantage of it - about 75 percent - are educators, according to State Teachers Retirement System officials.
State Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, said it's time to end such costly perks for government workers.
"Nobody does this in the private sector because businesses can't afford it. Well, the public sector can't either," he said.
Damschroder in December introduced House Bill 388, which would prevent all public workers from drawing their earned retirement funds while still working. The reform bill remains in the preliminary stages.
The congressman's goal is to free up jobs for younger workers and protect all five public pension systems from going broke after years of doling out generous benefits. Politicians are to blame for the mess, he added.
"I don't want to condemn anybody who's taking advantage of the law. I blame the legislators for letting it go on this long," he said.
Not a common practice locally
In the last five years, 20 local teachers, school administrators and bus drivers in five of nine Grand Lake area schools have retired and were rehired in the same district. Educators who retire from one district and are hired by another also receive dual benefits but are not technically considered retire-rehires and aren't subject to state-mandated public hearings prior to re-employment.
St. Henry schools board of education members last week rejected high school principal Frank Griesdorn's request to retire-rehire based on negative public input and a lack of sufficient savings to the district.
Two Fort Recovery middle school teachers seeking to retire-rehire will face a public hearing June 12. Kathleen Heitkamp and Diane McClung each collect salaries, with benefits, totaling $90,216. If they are rehired, their wages and benefits package will drop to $73,864, based on their education degrees, saving the district a total of $32,704. A new hire with no experience, with full benefits, would be paid $56,304 to $61,689.
Superintendent Shelly Vaughn said the district has 75 to 100 applications from teachers certified to fill those middle school positions. The school employs 62 teachers.
Parkway Local Schools Board of Education recently allowed second-grade teacher Art Bader to retire with an annual salary and benefit package of $76,103 and be rehired at the step 8 rate (based on his education degree) of $64,039 - a savings to the school of $12,064. A new teacher with full benefits and no experience would be paid $54,905.
Some schools utilize the retire-rehire option when they can't fill vacant positions. At Marion Local, a full-time language teacher was allowed to retire and be rehired at half time to allow the school to phase out a German program. No one else applied for the job.
Costs savings varies
Sherry Shaffer, the former treasurer of Coldwater schools, said the retire-rehire process leaves a "bad perception of public education" with those footing the bill.
"We've entered an age where taxpayers are finally starting to ask why, and well they should, and as they ask those questions, they're finding answers they don't particularly like," she said. "Taxpayers need to know how their money is spent."
The retire-rehire option has been touted as a way to retain experienced educators at a lower salary. But Shaffer said there's little savings because most rehires are placed at a higher step salary rate based on their education level; new teachers fresh out of college start at step 0.
Coldwater and St. Marys school districts are the only ones in the Grand Lake area that start rehires at step 0. Celina guarantees the highest rate - step 10, which ranges from $47,500 to $56,450, based on educational degree, treasurer Mike Marbaugh said. A new teacher at step 0 would be paid $32,536 to $38,881.
Celina has not rehired any retirees in the last five years; the current school board does not favor the idea.
Besides salaries, school districts must by law pay certain benefits for rehires including 14 percent into a new retirement annuity, Shaffer said. Rehires contribute 10 percent toward the annuity, although it's common for districts to pick up the entire cost for administrators.
School districts also must provide health insurance to rehires if they're not covered by a spouse's policy. Employer and employee contributions vary.
Experience vs. new opportunity
Jerry Skiver, 65, who is finishing up a one-year, 190-day contract as interim superintendent of St. Marys City Schools, retired in 2007 after serving as superintendent of New Boston Local Schools. Since last fall, he's collected an undisclosed pension check and an annual salary and benefit package from the St. Marys school district worth slightly less than $100,000.
"I'm not looking to better my retirement. I like what I'm doing," he said. "It's a blessing to be here."
During 2010-2011, the school paid former superintendent Mary Riepenhoff a salary/benefit package of $140,619 for 260 days worked. The district picked up the 10 percent employee retirement contribution for Riepenhoff and Skiver, as well as the 14 percent employers must pay.
Skiver, who is 65 and in his 39th year of education, said the number of qualified superintendents is shrinking. He believes his experience as a school administrator, which dates back to 1979, is an asset and he's not yet ready to close the door on his career. He currently is a candidate for a superintendent position at North Canton City Schools.
"If I have a skill and it's viable and marketable, it should be put up against anyone else's," he explained. "Ultimately, the decision (whom to hire) is up to the school board."
Van Keeting, director of management services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said Skiver is correct. It is up to each board of education to find the best person for the job. If, for example, a building project is on the horizon, the board may look for someone with experience in getting a levy passed, he explained.
"It should be based on an understanding of what the school needs, not how much money they have," he said.
But he disagrees with Skiver's belief that certified superintendents are hard to find.
"Oh, I think there are plenty of candidates out there," he said, estimating there are more than a thousand educators across the state with superintendent certificates. "Of course, that doesn't mean they all want to be one."
Choose one or the other
Celina City Schools Board of Education President Matt Gilmore has mixed feelings about the rehire practice.
"We've used it very judiciously in the past ... I don't see us doing it again in the foreseeable future," he said. "Our absolute criteria for doing it would be to save money. It's got to make good business sense. If it doesn't, it's not going to happen."
He doesn't feel taxpayers should "line the nest of retire-rehirees" but agrees there are times when it could be appropriate.
"If it can keep a teacher with 32 or 35 years of experience at a cost of a new teacher, I'd think about it," he said.
St. Marys resident and local librarian Linda Huber, a government worker for about seven years, disagrees with the concept.
"When I think of retiring, it is with the concept that I have been employed for many years and it's time to leave the workforce behind to kick back, spend more time with family, enjoy pastimes and give back by doing volunteer work," she said.
She also believes new hires deserve a chance.
"There are so many young people out there with college educations that are without jobs because of those individuals who 'retire' only to turn around and re-assume their positions," she said. "I applaud the legislator who is finally looking at doing something about it."
Shaffer said public workers need to decide if they want to stay or go and stick to their decision.
"You shouldn't retire from the public sector until you are ready to leave the public sector, and if you want to still work after retirement, do so in the private sector," she said. "If you're not ready to leave education/government employment, you shouldn't retire until you are ready. Period."
Facts about rehiring:
• Public workers who retire and are rehired are eligible to simultaneously receive retirement benefits and a salary while accumulating additional retirement funds.
• To re-employ a retiree from the same school district, a board of education must give 60 days public notice before re-employment begins and hold a public hearing.
• St. Henry is the only local school district without an official retire-rehire policy. Eight other schools in the Grand Lake area have a district policy and/or a policy included in their teachers' union contract.
• Area school policies give rehired teachers the benefit of negotiated raises during their re-employment.
• The nine public schools in the area employ 834 teachers with an average experience of nearly 16 years.
• Across Ohio there are 15,500 re-employed retirees actively working in schools. About 70 percent of them are classified as part time.
• Studies show nearly one-fourth of public school leaders in Ohio are retire-rehires.
• The retire-rehire process is legal for government workers in all five pension systems: Public Employees Retirement System, State Teachers Retirement System, Schools Employees Retirement System (non-teachers), Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund and the Highway Patrol Retirement System.
• Current laws allow school employees to retire after 30 years and start collecting 66 percent of the average of their top three salary years. After working 35 years, they can collect about 88 percent.
- Shelley Grieshop