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JSD: Early retirement incentive met with hesitation

Posted: February 9, 2011 - 4:58am

A proposal to offer an early retirement incentive to save the Juneau School District some money was met with hesitation.

Employees who have been working full-time for the district for at least 15 years would be eligible to take a lump sum payment of 12 percent of their annual base salary under the plan revised Tuesday night by the Juneau School Board.

The prior proposal was open to anyone working for the district full-time for 10 years who is at least 55 years of age, however district Director of Administrative Services David Means said the age limitation could potentially be discriminatory.

By removing the age limitation, more employees are eligible. Under the prior estimation, there were 111 eligible.

Under the updated proposal, the district would spend $500,000 but would see a total savings of $800,000 in the first year if half of the eligible employees took the incentive. If all took it, the district would spend $1 million, but would see a total savings of $1.7 million in the first year.

Some board members were concerned with this method of a budget cut because it would cut down on the number of experienced teachers in favor of new, likely unexperienced teachers. Board member Mark Choate voiced that concern.

“By the second reading, it would help me understand why we would give up that talent for small savings of money,” Choate said.

“We do recognize it would be a huge drain on our talent pool here,” Means said. “...That is the most significant argument against this proposal.”

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said it is the district’s hiring policy to not hire the cheapest employee, but the candidate who has the best talent for the job. The hires that would replace the retirees under this proposal would follow the same process, he said.

“It isn’t an expectation that we would necessarily hire everyone at the starting level,” Gelbrich said. “We are very aware of the point you’re making, Mark.”

Juneau-Douglas High School student council representative Sam Kurland also had concerns.

“As a student, I’m leery of any cut that would reduce the experience of our teachers,” he said. “It makes a difference to have an experienced teacher.”

Board member Kim Poole didn’t feel the incentive was enough to have as big of an effect as the others were concerned about. Poole, a retired teacher, said when she was qualified to retire this incentive would not have influenced her decision.

She also added that she’s been watching three kindergarten teachers at Glacier Valley and asked how long one had been teaching. She expected about 10 years of experience based on what she saw. The teacher has two years of experience, she said.

“We can’t assume that experience qualifies,” Poole said. “Nor can we assume that longevity makes a difference.”

Parent Laurie Berg, also on the district’s budget committee, was concerned about the proposal because of the “enormous amount of effort and money” the district is putting into professional development of staff.

“We are investing money into mentors for some of our early teachers,” she said. “We also have a hard areas to fill. ... It seems like an insignificant amount of money we’re saving for some of the problems it would present.”

The board will meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday to take action on the proposal, so that if it passes employees have time to talk to retirement consultants before the March deadline.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at
523-2279 or at sarah.day@
juneauempire.com.

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