School leaders urge state to allow rehiring of retirees

Program wasn't renewed after reports that many taught in non-needy areas

October 13, 2004|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Representatives of Maryland's school boards and superintendents lobbied skeptical Annapolis lawmakers yesterday to restart a program designed to fill critical school openings by rehiring retired teachers and principals.

"This is an option we all need," said Carl Roberts, superintendent of Cecil County public schools, who spoke on behalf of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland.

Lawmakers had intended for the program to help school systems struggling to find top-notch teachers and principals for struggling schools and key subjects such as math, science and special education. Retired teachers and principals could go back to work and earn a full salary while keeping their pensions.

But the legislators decided against renewing it this year after The Sun reported that many rehired educators in Baltimore County schools were teaching noncritical subjects such as art and music, and working in high-performing schools. The scheduler at one county high school was listed as a rehired math teacher, even though he didn't teach math and wasn't certified to do so.

During a 1 1/4 -hour hearing, legislators on the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Pensions asked supporters of rehiring to return with statistics showing the need for the program, its cost and proposals for deterring misuse.

"How do you control the local superintendents who will abuse the program?" asked Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Democrat from Prince George's County and chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "That's the problem, so I think you have to help us with your colleagues."

Del. Joan Cadden, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said school systems could consider giving veteran educators incentives to stay, rather than encouraging them to retire so they can collect a salary on top of their pensions.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, co-chairman of the pension committee, questioned why a school system needed to rehire a principal. "I can't believe there's not one person in the county who doesn't have the capability to move up," he said.

The rehiring program was in effect for four years before expiring. Last school year, 764 teachers and 10 principals were rehired, according to the State Department of Education.

Supporters described rehiring as a necessary tool of last resort, when scholarships, stipends and other incentives to recruit and retain capable educators fail to address shortages.

They argued that it will be even more important by the end of the next school year, when the federal No Child Left Behind Act will require school districts to have only "highly qualified" teaching core subjects such as math and science.

"It's just one very valuable tool that we don't have in placing qualified teachers and principals in critical vacancies," said Allan Gorsuch, executive director of the Eastern Shore of Maryland Educational Consortium.

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