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updated: 5/22/2012 5:35 PM

Dist. 26 president: early retirement offer win-win for district and teachers

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The early retirement offer made to Cary Elementary District 26 teachers who are set to retire in the next four years would be mutually beneficial for teachers and the school district, board President Christopher Spoerl said Tuesday.

But some parents say the early retirement option would cost millions of dollars to a district that already has slashed staff numbers, cut teacher pay and eliminated retirement benefits for future retirees.

In a letter to district retirees last week, Superintendent Brian Coleman outlined the district's accelerated retirement plan. The district will pay a $20,000 lump sum to certified staffers who have been approved by the school board for retirement under the 2008-2011 teachers contract. Teachers who take the offer will retire as of June 2012. The board agreed to waive provisions that required 15 or more years of service with the district, a minimum age of 60 years or 35 years of service under the Teacher Retirement System.

The district, Coleman said in the memo, has also agreed to pay the employee and employer penalties, which are calculated based on a retiring teacher's age and the number of years teaching. There are about 50 teachers in line to retire within the next four years.

Spoerl said the scenario could be mutually advantageous to teachers and the district and that no new money would be spent. In the last agreement between the school board and teachers union, which was reached last November, the $20,000 lump sum was eliminated for future retirees, not those already in the pipeline.

Now, pension reform proposals could reduce what teachers receive in retirement, Spoerl said.

"This is shifting the timing of what teachers would get anyway in order to allow them to lock in those benefits under the current law, rather than have the law change to their disadvantage," Spoerl said. "This is totally optional for us and is totally optional for teachers. It only works if it works for everybody."

In addition, the district would save on salary expenses by replacing the retired teacher with a less experienced one, and also on the 6 percent raises teachers are eligible for in each of their last four years of teaching, Spoerl said.

But parents like Ken Hillman, a vociferous critic of the school district, said the buyouts do not calculate.

"The district claims it has no money. This is so counterintuitive," Hillman said. "This incentivizes people to retire early and stick the district with penalties. The only way this makes sense is if you have a pot of money that you don't know what to do with."

Spoerl said it is unknown how many teachers will be granted the option or how much it will cost the district.

"We have to see who wants to retire and what their demographics are so that we can crunch the numbers and find out where to draw the line," Spoerl said.

Final decisions are expected at the end of the week.

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