13 principals plan to retire, then be rehired by county

State law allows schools to keep veteran educators on staff to ease shortages

May 16, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Thirteen Baltimore County school principals will retire next month - only to find themselves back on the job the next day.

They are taking advantage of a state law that allows principals and teachers to retire from Maryland school systems with full benefits and then be rehired and draw a full salary. The number in the county is up from four a year ago and just one two years ago - the first year of the program.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston called it "a coup" to be able to retain so many principals as the teacher shortage becomes mirrored in the administrative ranks.

"Their experience and wisdom is invaluable, and we're very fortunate we've been able to hold onto them," he said. "The pool [of new principals] is so thin out there. When they [experienced principals] walk away, they walk away with years of institutional background."

The list of "rehired retired principals," as they are called, was approved Tuesday night by the county school board. Also approved was a lengthy list of appointments and transfers for the next school year, including several high-profile positions.

Sparrows Point High Principal Wayne D. Thibeault, who has worked for the county schools for 31 years, was named principal of New Town High School, the county's first new high school since nearby Owings Mills opened in 1978. New Town is scheduled to open in August 2003.

Thibeault will oversee everything from choosing school colors and a mascot to hiring teachers and deciding what kinds of programs to offer. He expects a lot of community involvement in those decisions.

"There is so much work to be done in a year," he said. "New Town is so unique. It's a school being placed right in the middle of a new community, and the school can be the center of the new community."

Robert A. Santacroce, principal of Meadowood Education Center, will replace Thibeault at Sparrows Point.

Fort Garrison Elementary Principal Kim X. Whitehead has been named executive director of central area schools. Towson High Principal Gwendolyn R. Grant will become executive director of secondary programs. Her former job has not been filled.

Two years ago, the only year for which data was available yesterday, 687 teachers and 20 principals statewide took advantage of the "rehire retire" program. Two-thirds were in Prince George's County. Baltimore County was second with 81 teachers and one principal.

This academic year, the county had 106 teachers and four principals involved. The number of teachers for the next school year is unavailable, Hairston said.

For instance, an experienced high school principal who earns $94,000 a year would earn that salary plus, if he or she is part of the old retirement system, about 60 percent of that - or $56,000 a year - in retirement money.

The program "is obviously catching on in some places," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, and is helping to ease the looming shortage of administrators.

"It is not the solution but may be part of the solution," he said. "You don't see a really, really good school without a good principal."

Thomas N. Ellis, principal at Sparks Elementary for the past nine years, was planning to retire this year after 31 years in Baltimore County. Ellis, 57, said his salary wasn't significantly higher than his retirement benefit would be. He was persuaded to stay partly because he could draw both checks and partly because Hairston asked him to, he said.

"He feels like I still have something to offer," Ellis said, "and I do."

Ken Burch, principal of Western School of Technology in Catonsville for the past 13 years, has been in the school system for 36 years. He said he wanted to retire, but would need to draw an additional income. So instead of finding another job, he will be back at Western, where he has been since the school opened in 1970. "I'm healthy. I like my job. I love my school," he said.

"Everyone says: `Educators - 30 years and you're out,'" said the 59-year-old Burch. "You've got to get over that."

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