80 Oakton part-time teachers could lose jobs over pension rules

  • As many as 80 part-time instructors at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines could be getting pink slips next year after college officials decided they no longer would hire retirees already earning a pension. The move comes after the state fined the college $150,000 for allowing pensioners to work too many hours.

      As many as 80 part-time instructors at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines could be getting pink slips next year after college officials decided they no longer would hire retirees already earning a pension. The move comes after the state fined the college $150,000 for allowing pensioners to work too many hours. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer, 2013

 
 
Updated 11/30/2014 7:17 PM

As many as 80 instructors at Oakton Community College are expected to get pink slips at the end of the school year -- and it's still not clear if legislation sitting on the governor's desk will save their jobs.

Oakton is the latest community college to announce it will no longer hire those earning pensions. The move comes in response to a 2013 state law that imposes penalties on institutions that pay retired teachers, depending on the number of classes they teach and the size of their pension.

 

The 80 Oakton teachers facing layoffs already are collecting state pensions, having retired from full-time teaching jobs at Oakton or other public institutions.

Oakton, which has campuses in Des Plaines and Skokie, was fined $150,000 by the State Universities Retirement System this year after officials said three instructors exceeded teaching limits imposed by the law. Colleges are required to pay a penalty equal to an instructor's full year of pension if the instructor is paid more than 40 percent of his or her highest pre-retirement salary.

Sponsors of the legislation at the time said it was meant to combat "double dipping" among high-earning administrators who retire, then return to work. But the Oakton teachers in jeopardy of losing their jobs say they teach part-time because their pensions aren't very high.

"It was anger. It was despair. It was frustration," Barbara Dayton, president of Oakton's Adjunct Faculty Association, said of the reactions of a number of teachers at a recent meeting of the college's board of trustees. "One adjunct said, 'I can't live on $500 a month. How can I live?'"

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While some schools like College of DuPage were among the first institutions to stop hiring pension-earning retirees, Oakton administrators decided to take a wait-and-see approach.

"We made this decision because we value (their) expertise and their knowledge of our culture and our students," Mum Martens, Oakton's director of human resources, wrote in an email to employees.

But even after instituting a monitoring system to limit teaching assignments, Oakton was still hit with financial penalties. That spurred the decision to no longer hire retired teachers, Martens wrote.

Oakton spokeswoman Janet Spector Bishop said an effective monitoring system is hard to manage and staff.

"We can monitor if the only thing folks are doing is working here," she said. "They could be teaching elsewhere."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Dayton said pensioners should be asked to sign a form saying they don't teach at another institution and believes Oakton is capable of putting together a digital monitoring system to track teachers' pensions and class loads.

"With computer software and the myriad information collecting systems out there, I do not buy that Oakton can't come up with a system," Dayton said.

Legislation that would eliminate penalties involving those who earn an annual pension of less than $10,000 awaits Gov. Pat Quinn's signature, which could open the door to some teachers keeping their jobs.

Spector Bishop said college officials will examine the new rules, if approved, and see how many teachers it would affect. But as of now, plans call for the new hiring policy to begin July 1.

Teachers who aren't earning pensions could take on larger teaching loads, or new teachers could be hired next year, Spector Bishop said.

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