Survey reveals misuse of teacher rehirings

Bill limits pay, requires work in struggling schools

April 04, 2004|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

The first survey of school systems across the state on their rehiring of retired teachers under a program to help troubled schools shows that many of the educators teach subjects such as art, gym and music, some work in high-performing schools and many earn higher salaries than they did before retirement.

Eleven school systems reported on their rehirings at the request of Maryland lawmakers, who called for the data after reports raised questions about the deployment and pay of teachers in the program.

To address the issue, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would require the re-employed educators to teach core subjects such as math, science and reading, work in low-performing schools and collect salaries amounting to no more than 70 percent of their pre-retirement pay.

The Senate is considering the measure, which the House approved last week.

"This was a good concept that got very abused, and we're doing a lot to tighten it up," said Del. Mary-Dulany James, a Harford County Democrat who is one of the bill's sponsors.

The bill faces opposition. The Maryland State Teachers Association has lobbied against the limit on salaries as a violation of collective bargaining. School systems say the restrictions jeopardize their ability to fill vacancies during a shortage.

"If the idea is to get quality teachers who have retired to come back, telling them they can only teach in low-performing schools and/or only make 70 percent of what the teacher next door is making, doesn't make sense," said Mary Jo Neville, an MSTA lobbyist. "This serves as a disincentive."

Willie Jackson, supervisor of human resources in Worcester County schools, said he didn't see the need for restrictions. "Everyone knows the intent of the law now -- if they didn't know, they know now," he said. "The alleged abuses we've been reading about in the paper won't be a problem now."

The Maryland State Department of Education supports the legislation because it renews the program, which will otherwise expire at the end of the school year, a spokesman said.

Lawmakers passed a bill in 1999 designed to lure retired teachers to help struggling schools by offering the teachers the chance to earn salaries while collecting their pensions. In December, The Sun reported that some of those teachers were taking home six-figure sums and that some school systems were criticized for not using the program as intended.

The survey found that many rehired teachers taught subjects outside of critical areas.

In Prince George's County, 17 of the 224 rehired instructors teach gym, three teach art, two teach health, one is a guidance counselor and one is an ROTC liaison. Overall, 36 percent of Prince George's rehired instructors don't teach core subjects, the survey found. District officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Frederick County schools reported that 44 percent of rehired instructors there are teaching core subjects, such as math, reading and science, according to the survey. Its 36 rehired instructors include five gym teachers, an art teacher and a guidance counselor.

Carolyn Strum, the personnel official overseeing Frederick's program, defended all of the rehirings as legal.

The survey also showed that rehired teachers are working in high-performing schools.

In Anne Arundel County, five of the 26 rehired teachers are listed as working at Severna Park High, a school whose test scores consistently rank high in Maryland. Lin Blackman, director of human resources, said three of those teachers are part-time, and could work at the school without the program.

In Montgomery County, a rehired family and consumer science teacher works at Damascus High, which has won a state award for excellence. A rehired special education teacher works at Thomas S. Wootton High, which has been recognized as one of the nation's top schools.

Thelma Monk, director of staffing, said all seven of Montgomery County's rehired instructors teach in subjects that the district has trouble filling.

According to the survey, many rehired teachers are taking home salaries higher than their pay before retirement.

Charles County schools have the highest percentage. All but one of the 25 retired teachers rehired there were earning more, the survey said. A business education teacher who earns $72,059 received the largest increase, of 29 percent.

In Baltimore County schools, 17 rehired teachers were making more than before retirement, including a business education teacher at Kenwood High who received a 22 percent increase.

Like officials for other districts, Keith Hettel, executive director of human resources in Charles County schools, said the rehired teachers were making more money because they had received cost-of-living adjustments and step raises.

"These people have worked 30-plus years, and just because they're getting retirement doesn't mean they should face a cap," Hettel said.

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