Portland schools up the ante to encourage retirements

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PORTLAND — The School Board approved a retirement incentive designed to help cope with an anticipated revenue shortfall of $6 million next year.

The incentive increases the maximum payout to age- and experience-eligible employees from $10,000 to $20,000.

The package, however, was approved on the condition that the superintendent will ensure enough employees sign up so the district can experience savings. It allows the board one more vote on the package before it takes effect.

Superintendent James C. Morse Sr. said there are 200 employees who are eligible for the retirement incentive, which he described as a “very, very unusually high number.”

But, since incentives have been offered in each of the last four years, Morse said he is concerned that employees, some of whom are in their 70s, may be putting off their retirements with the expectation that it will be offered every year.

“I am concerned that we may be in a pattern of behavior that staff will expect us to do this every year and then find out we’re not and get relatively upset,” Morse said.

Kathleen Casasa, president of the Portland Education Association, which represents teachers, said the district shouldn’t be concerned about teacher expectations.

“It’s offered when it’s offered,” Casasa said. “No one would be expecting you – and teachers would not support – you doing this at a cost to the district.”

This year’s incentive is being offered to employees who have been with the district for at least 10 years and who have reached age 60 or 62, depending on their dates of service.

Eligible employees would receive a minimum payout of $10,000, or 30 percent of their 2010-2011 salary, up to $20,000, over the next four years.

Employees interested in the incentive must submit an application to the district by Feb. 28.

Last year, the district paid nearly $240,000 to 43 employees who were at least 60 years old and with the district at least 10 years. Twenty-three of those employees were teachers.

The incentive offered employees a $10,000 payout or subsidized health care until the age of 65.

Morse said the district saved about $1.5 million as a result of last year’s incentive.

Projecting the savings from this year’s incentive would be impossible, Morse said, noting it would depend on how many employees sign up for the program and whether he would have to find replacements. 

But, with the district facing a $6 million revenue shortfall next year, Morse said the more employees there are who retire, the fewer the employees who will have to be laid off.

Morse said every million dollars equates to 20 teaching positions.

Board member Marnie Morrione said she would like to ensure that enough employees sign up for the incentive, so the program can accomplish its goal of reducing layoffs.

“If not,” she said, “it might not be the right year to offer it.”

Morse said he would report back in March to the School Board, which would have to sign off on the payouts.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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