More than 330 city teachers sign up for buyout

City school officials confident that plan, which needed 350 participants, will go through

April 18, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore City school system is likely to move forward with a plan to offer early retirement packages to its most experienced teachers as more than 330 have accepted the deal, which seeks to save the district millions of dollars.

When the school system announced the early retirement incentive plan in February, it said at least 350 teachers had to take the plan for it to be successful, and that no more than 750 could. But city school officials said Monday that the 332 teachers who signed up were enough for the plan to go through.

"The district is confident that we will implement the [plan]," said Mike Frist, chief financial officer for the school system. "However, until those numbers are finalized, we will not be able to determine the budget impact or the school analysis."

The deadline for teachers with more than 10 years' experience to take the retirement plan was Friday, and the teachers who applied have a seven-day period to change their minds. About 3,200 teachers were eligible to leave the system and receive 75 percent of their current annual salaries, deposited over a five-year period into a city school investment account.

This is the first time the Baltimore school system has offered an early retirement incentive package. The plan was presented as a way to mitigate budget shortfalls and prevent potential layoffs as the system girds for an expected reduction in teaching positions next year. The school district is grappling with a $43 million deficit; its proposed budget for fiscal 2012 is due to be released May 10.

According to the school district's plan, first-year savings are predicted to be between $5 million and $10 million, depending on how many teachers take the buyout and how many of those positions are refilled.

Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said she was not surprised by the number of teachers who took the offer. English said when the deal was announced that teachers had expressed an interest in the offer to retire early.

"I thought that it would get to the number they needed, and those people who were going to retire are taking advantage of it," English said.

English said that she was not concerned about the early retirements taking decades of experience out of the district. "I think a lot of teachers decided to stay on, too."

Tom Proveaux, a city teacher of 33 years, was one teacher of retirement age who decided against taking the package after realizing he would be entitled to more in Social Security benefits in two years, when he turns 66.

"I would have gone for it if I were 66 years old," he said. "It just didn't meet all of my needs."

In an example of the package's breakdown, school officials said a teacher in the middle of the salary scale earns about $60,000 a year. Seventy-five percent of that salary is $45,000; divided by five years, the package would pay out $750 a month.

Besides the monthly payments for five years, those who take the offer will receive their full pension benefits when they reach retirement age. However, they will not receive fringe benefits, such as health insurance. They also cannot return to the system, except as substitutes.

The retirement plan will allow the school system to better prepare for new hiring because it will have an early estimate of how many teachers are leaving, city school officials said. Normally, teachers do not have to let the district know if they will leave until July 15, which is the state deadline.

School officials acknowledged in March that the retirement package is also an attempt to lower the number of surplus teachers — certified teachers who do not have permanent placements at the beginning of the school year. Surplus teachers have cost the district an estimated $18 million since 2008; this year, the city's surplus pool of more than 100 is expected to cost about $5.5 million.

Jimmy Gittings, president of the city's administrators union, said he hopes the plan will help decrease the number of surplus teachers, who are often placed in schools later in the school year after principals have done their hiring.

He said that reducing the surplus would "help to have an impact on the financial status of the system." Principals also stand to pay less in salary costs.

"I'm glad that they're giving individuals an opportunity to leave the system with additional monies, and I'm hoping that they'll offer the same to the administrators and all unions in the city," Gittings said.

Some parents who were critical of the buyout when it was announced said Monday that they are glad that the city will probably go forward with the plan — for the sake of the budget. But the concerns about their children's education remain.

"It's one of those cautionary things," said Andre Robinson, the parent of a fourth-grader and a sixth-grader at Rosemont Elementary/Middle. "The city is trying to be creative, and I applaud them. But we need more support for our children, and they seem like they're moving away from the support and just crunching numbers.

"I understand there are some teachers in there who need to be gone because they've stayed too long and are numb to the needs of our children," Robinson added. "But the feeling is that we'll have all of these inexperienced teachers coming in at a lower pay scale — and that could be a problem."

erica.green@baltsun.com

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