`I'll come as long as they need me'

Retired educators, school workers give their time to help the Arundel education system save money

December 09, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

The volunteers are retired teachers, principals, truancy officers and other school workers. They have arthritis. Some are in their 80s. Some are cancer survivors.

But that doesn't stop them from helping with projects for the Anne Arundel school system.

Their hands moved quickly along three long tables set up in the cafeteria of Anne Arundel County school board headquarters on a recent day. Each table held stacks of papers about health insurance, savings plans and other information for new employees.

All told, there were 34 inserts that needed to be assembled into 2,000 folders. It took 20 volunteers from the Anne Arundel Retired School Personnel Association about five hours to get the job done.

If the county had hired 20 people at the $5.85 federal minimum wage to assemble the folders, it would have cost the school system $11,700.

"We save the board a lot of money," said Marie Diamond, an association member and facilitator who helped organize the work on Tuesday. "We have such a good retirement system, so whenever they call, we come."

The association does not just stuff new employee folders. They also put together the open enrollment packages for all 12,000 active employees and assemble 6,000 retiree packets in the fall. They spent three days just collating curriculum guides.

"It is quite a contribution to the school system," said Lorraine Faris, senior manager for human resources operations for the school system. "Now we can use those funds for other things."

The retirees hope the money keeps funding the benefits they get, said Betty Ann White, president of the Anne Arundel Retired School Personnel Association. But that is not the only reason.

"A lot of it is social," said White, who worked as a teacher for 38 years.

While collating papers, Esther Rooks White ribbed her former high school classmate, Otho Johnson, about breezing in and out without doing any work. Johnson, former principal of Oakwood Elementary, bragged about his 15-year tenure at the school and then joked that he was heading out on a coffee break.

Esther Rooks White, retired principal of Meade Heights Elementary, gave him a withering look before returning to work. She said she enjoys the luncheons the association holds and is happy to help out when she can.

"I'll come as long as they need me," she said.

Across a cubicle divider separating the tables, Thelma Auman told former music teacher Abraham Brown that the retired teachers' chorus missed him. Since Brown survived throat cancer, he hasn't been able to sing.

"I can't tell you how much I miss it," said Brown, 82, who lives in Annapolis.

Auman, who volunteers for the association's newspaper, said volunteering helps her meet new people. At the age of 85, it also helps her stay active.

"I'm not going to sit down and do nothing," she said. "You have to move if you're going to keep moving."

The association changed its name from the retired teachers association in May to more accurately reflect the makeup of the organization and align with their parent chapter's name change, Betty Ann White said. Still, the association is mainly composed of former teachers. It has more than 1,900 people who pay a $10 annual membership fee.

Those older than 90 are exempt from the fee as well as the cost of the luncheons and other socials the association holds, Betty Ann White said.

The association uses the money to fund scholarships for future teachers, maintain the historic Anne Arundel County Free School and pay for speakers and other entertainment at social events.

About 60 members are active volunteers with the school board. Many of them stay active and volunteer at their churches, community centers and nursing homes, said Nancy Gaston, the volunteer coordinator.

The association's oldest member, Geneva Garner, is 107.

Last year, she had to stop teaching children how to read because her eyesight was failing, Betty Ann White said.

Association members say they are happy to support the board. The board provides good benefits and supplies the association with office space and printing for their newspaper.

"It's just a way of giving back," said Nina Griffith, a former principal of Marley Elementary School who retired in 2005. "It's a job that needs to be done."

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