Hollinger proposes bill that would limit rehired teachers to core classes

Senator acts after reports of retirees' double-dipping

December 11, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Stepping into the teacher rehiring controversy, the chairwoman of the state Senate education committee said yesterday that she will push for a measure requiring that retired instructors who return to the classroom teach core subjects in low-performing schools.

While the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Pension debates similar restrictions, Sen. Paula C. Hollinger said she has asked State House staff to draft the legislation. Her request comes after reports of hiring abuses in Baltimore County schools.

"We're just really concerned ... that people are in the right place making a difference and not just double-dipping," said Hollinger, who heads the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Her bill would alter a 4-year-old law that was designed to steer retired teachers of key subjects -- such as math and science -- to needy schools. In return, the teachers could collect a full salary on top of their pension.

The Sun found that most of Baltimore County's 149 rehired teachers are working in successful schools and that most are teaching subjects such as art, gym and music, subjects not deemed critical by the state. Moreover, some rehired teachers don't have classroom responsibilities. Randallstown High's student scheduler is listed as a math teacher even though he is certified in administration and elementary education.

Hollinger, a Pikesville-Owings Mills Democrat, said she has asked staffers to draw up legislation that requires rehired educators to work only as teachers and mentors.

Further, they would have to teach core subjects, special education or English for non-native speakers, and work in poorly performing schools, she said.

The joint pension committee has discussed adding hiring, reporting and oversight restrictions to the rehiring law. On Monday, it delayed formal recommendations after Democrats Michael E. Busch, House speaker, and Del. Norman H. Conway, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, intervened. But members indicated they would take action.

It is unclear how Hollinger's bill would square with recommendations that come out of the pension committee.

Hollinger acknowledged a role for the joint pension committee, because the rehiring of teachers requires the relaxing of Maryland pension rules. "But deciding who goes where and what's appropriate is a public policy determination for our committee," she said. Hollinger has discussed her proposal with state education officials.

Deputy State Superintendent Ronald A. Peiffer said it was normal for an issue in Annapolis to prompt several pieces of legislation. "We are very interested in working with legislators to come up with a plan to put the proper controls in place," he said.

There appears to be widespread support inside and outside Annapolis for placing limits on the rehiring process.

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. recently lent his support while expressing concern about reported abuses.

Arvis C. Tucker, the legislative chairwoman of the PTA Council of Baltimore County, added: "Rehired retired teachers should serve in those schools most at risk -- for those students who might not have the benefit of their expertise any other way. The current system definitely warrants reform."

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