Lawmakers poised to toughen school retire-rehire rules

Assembly panel to meet today

agenda includes oversight, reporting issues

December 08, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Seeking to prevent further abuses, Annapolis lawmakers are expected to recommend today tighter hiring, reporting and oversight restrictions on the state law that allows retired teachers to return to classrooms.

The General Assembly's Joint Committee on Pensions will consider recommendations to require rehired teachers to work in schools that are performing poorly and to teach subjects that are deemed critical, such as science and math.

In addition, the committee will discuss requiring school systems to justify each teacher who is rehired; mandating that districts report annually the names, salaries and work locations of each rehire; and giving the State Department of Education an oversight role.

"That seems to be the general feeling," said Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat. "It's a great idea, but obviously it does need to be tweaked - a few safeguards to make sure it's used as we intended."

While cautioning that their thinking could change today, several members said they were inclined to amend and extend the 4-year-old law, which expires June 30 and was adopted to help alleviate Maryland's teacher shortage.

Maryland's law - one of the first of its kind in the nation - was designed to place teachers with years of experience in the schools that needed them most. They would also teach subjects deemed to have critical teacher shortages.

In return for coming out of retirement, teachers could collect a regular salary, plus their pension.

But an investigation by The Sun found that most rehired employees in Baltimore County schools were working in successful schools and that they were teaching subjects such as art, gym and music not deemed critical by the state.

Some had no classroom responsibilities. A staff member at Randallstown High School was listed by the school system as a math teacher, even though he was not certified. He was arranging student schedules.

"It seems that some stretched what was the original intent of the legislation," said House Minority Leader George C. Edwards of Garrett County, who serves on the panel, "and we feel it needs to be tighter-knit."

Del. Mary-Dulany James, a Harford County Democrat who is co-chairwoman of the committee, said the panel wants to make sure the rehired employees are teaching, not doing scheduling and other administrative work.

At a hearing last week, committee members attacked Baltimore County's use of the law and questioned whether the county schools had subverted the law by applying it to administrators and using it to staff successful schools.

State education officials, looking to salvage a law they say is crucial to retaining qualified teachers in Maryland, have expressed support for amendments that would ensure the law is used as intended.

"If implemented properly, the retire-rehire option gives us an additional tool that will be critical in keeping experienced teachers from leaving the profession at a time where we have some serious teacher shortages throughout the state," said Deputy State Superintendent Ronald A. Peiffer.

Baltimore County school officials have said the program helps them fill more than 1,000 teaching vacancies every summer. "It is a good law. It can be useful. If it is used with the spirit it was intended, it can be effective," said Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston.

Renewing and amending the law could be part of a broader overhaul of Maryland retirement regulations.

James said the committee has discussed giving all members of the state retirement system the opportunity to return to work after they retire and begin collecting pensions. But she said salary limits would need to be imposed.

"So you don't have someone who retired and now is making $40,000 more than what they were making," James said.

Every year, groups of state and municipal employees have asked lawmakers for the benefit. The state retirement system supports the idea of giving all its participants the option of returning to work, saying that such an arrangement would be easier to administer.

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