Retired teachers may be asked back

In Baltimore County, board weights plan leaving pensions intact

February 23, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Hoping to lure experienced teachers to poorly performing schools and to sidestep a nationwide teacher shortage, the Baltimore County Board of Education is considering a plan that would allow retired teachers to return to the classroom without losing pension benefits.

The plan would target 65 schools with the lowest test scores and the most inexperienced teachers, those with less than three years in the classroom. Retired teachers who agree to work at those schools would be paid $57,551 a year in addition to their full pensions.

Retirees who go to schools with higher scores would be paid $45,577 or $51,431 a year, with science and mathematics teachers earning the higher salary. Those teachers also would receive full pension benefits.

"Clearly, what we hope to achieve is to add another solution to address the teacher shortage," said John E. Smeallie, director of personnel, who presented the plan to the Board of Education last night.

The proposal comes on the heels of a state law passed last year that allows retired teachers to return to work without losing pension benefits. Previously, those teachers risked losing part of their benefits if their earnings exceeded their pensions.

"I guess you could say that senior teachers rule," school board member James R. Sasiadek said last night after being briefed on the plan. The board will vote on the proposal next month.

Members of the local teachers union, who worked with Smeallie on the plan, said they are disappointed in its salary provisions.

"I would prefer that everyone got the top [salary], but they've got some budgetary constraints," said Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

In calculating pensions, the school system takes a teacher's three highest paid years, averages them and divides the average in half. A teacher at the top salary step, with a master's degree and 30 additional classroom credits, would average about $58,000 and be eligible for a $29,000 pension.

Money to pay for the extra teachers is not included in the 2000-2001 operating budget. School officials did not say how much the program would cost, but indicated that they would ask the County Council for the extra funds.

School administrators are trying to reduce class sizes, and they worry that a shortage of teachers will prevent them from doing that.

County schools have had trouble filling math and science vacancies. The school board approved a budget last night that includes $1,000 signing bonuses for teachers in those areas.

Beytin said the plan to rehire retired teachers could go far to alleviate the teacher shortage. But he worries that some might get the wrong message and leave their jobs prematurely. About 200 teachers retired from the county school system last year.

"There are some misconceptions about the advantages of continuing to work," he said. "I don't believe that it is in the best interest of teachers to retire for the purpose of being rehired. Many of them are thinking about that."

Some retired teachers wrongly assume that they would accumulate more years of service, and that their pensions would grow, if they returned to work. But pension benefits stop accruing when a teacher retires, Beytin said.

The program to bring retired teachers back into the classroom would be expected to last about four years and should see the school system through the critical stage of the teacher shortage, Smeallie said.

All retired teachers would be placed on one-year contracts that would need to be renewed each year, he said. They would be expected to perform the same duties as other teachers, including hall duty.

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