Erasing Early Retirement

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School District Doing Away With Incentive Program

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

The Glenwood Community School District is doing away with its early retirement leave incentive for licensed and classified staff.

The Glenwood Board of Education voted last Monday to forgo the policy that offers employees that have served the district for 15 consecutive years a one-time incentive financial package for early retirement. The board voted to retain the rates offered in the current incentive policy for the next three years. The incentive will be eliminated following the 2014-2015 school year.

Under current policy, licensed professional staff (teachers and administrators) would receive 80 percent of the difference between their current teaching salary and the beginning teacher salary. Classified staff (secretaries, food service, teachers aids and maintenance) would earn 38 percent of their current salary. Those eligible employees must request the leave incentive by Feb. 15 of the year they intend to leave.

“They are basically moving away from a bonus mentality to a cost savings mentality,” Glenwood Superintendent Devin Embray said. “It would be brought back only when there is a financial need to do so.”
In a work session prior to last Monday’s regular meeting, the school board discussed options for the leave program including a change in percentage offered to licensed staff from 80 to 100 percent, extending the program for five years, ending the program after the current year or adding a health insurance model.

“They were brainstorming all the different things around it (the incentive program),” Embray said.
“The philosophy has been that it has been treated as a stable entity for many years and now they’re looking at it as something they can’t look at (that way) anymore.”

The district’s management fund pays out the incentive fund payments for employees aged 55 to 65. Incentive payments to employees before age 55 or after age 65 come from the district’s general fund.
Embray said the board’s decision was a cost-saving one with an eye down the road.
“It’s really hard to say you’re doing it for cost-saving purposes when you’ve got two or three people who are 65 and they retire and you have to take it out of the general fund,” Embray said. “You really didn’t save them (the district) any money with replacing them with lower cost individuals because you paid the incentive out of the general fund.

“The fact we’re getting a more aged staff, closer to that 65 threshold, and in fact over the next four years, it averages between $50,000 and $80,000 based on the current incentive that would come out of the general fund (per year) should those people retire, was something they we’re looking at.”

Embray admitted the board’s decision would be a “hard pill to swallow” for some employees. The board asked the superintendent to not give his recommendation either way on the incentive policy during work sessions for that very reason, he said.

“This is a policy they’ve had in place for many years, probably more than 25 years,” Embray added. “That’s a long time for something to be there that isn’t going to be there anymore.”
Margo Young, a first grade teacher at Northeast Elementary and a 36-year employee of  the district, was at Monday’s meeting. She’s no fan of the board’s decision.

“I think this is a step backward in a long standing policy,” said Young, a past president of Glenwood Education Association. “This was put in place to acknowledge long-term loyalty of employees both to the district and the families of the community.”

Young has considered the early retirement incentive and she thinks many other teachers will consider and likely take the incentive before it’s done away with in three years.

“I think we’re going to lose some really valuable staff to the district that have had important roles in our district, both in leadership roles and on committees,” Young said. “I think we’re going to lose their expertise. As an employee here and a member of this community, that worries me because without that expertise leading the newer members of our faculty we can lose some vital information and procedures that have been in place.”

Embray said approximately 45 employees are currently eligible for the early retirement incentive. Less than 10 employees took that option last year. Embray admits the board’s decision could result in a spike of early retirements but he hopes that won’t impact the district’s educational standards.

“In the past, they knew it was there and they could depend on it so they didn’t think about it,” Embray said. “So really when they wanted to retire was really the only decision they had to make. Now, knowing financially they could lose out on something that impacts their retirement, they may end up going earlier. And that would be a loss for our district. We value expertise and we’d be losing that.”

Other Board News
* The board voted to keep the district’s current “no pass, no play” policy, voting down a proposed change that would have exceeded the benchmark required of all students participating in any extracurricular and cocurricular activities to maintain a “C” average.

According to the district’s current policy, which matches the state’s requirements for eligibility, any participant with an “F” at the end of any grading period must sit out 30 days. Under the proposed policy a “D” at the end of any grading period would have excluded participation.

“Some good points were brought up,” Embray said. “We’re actually going to change our modality (as a result) so if anyone wants to look at or change board policy we’re going to pull it (the policy) and bring back the pros and cons and then they can be informed before making a decision so we don’t have to go through three months of ‘first reads.’”

* The board voted to accept the $51,475 bid of Hoglund Bus Co. to replace Spiral Communications, who withdrew from the contract, to provide bus cameras and wireless technology for the district.
Spiral Communications refunded the district for labor costs in excess of $20,000, said Embray.

The district hopes to have its bus camera technology on-line by mid-February.
* The board unveiled the 2011-2012 audit conducted by Nolte, Cornman and Johnson. Embray said the review of the district’s financials “went well” and only two minor issues were brought to the district’s attention.

One issue was the separation of duties in the district’s office with a payroll position and cash deposits.

“I think about 80 percent of the district’s in the state get this comment because they don’t have the financial ability to hire the additional staff to do the separation of the duties. But we do have internal controls even though we do have one person doing that.”

The second issue related to ticket-takers at district activities. The auditors suggested those handling the money count and sign off on the funds collected prior to “closing the box.”

* The district signed an agreement with Creighton University to host a Glenwood girls and boys soccer game at Morrison Soccer Stadium in Omaha on April 12. The cost is $1,610. Harlan, that day’s opponent, will cover $805 of the stadium rental fees.