Nearly 10 percent of the Flagler County school district’s workforce–65 teachers or instructional personnel and 100 non-instructional employees such as bus drivers, administrative assistants, cooks and others–qualify for an early-retirement offer the district is tendering employees for the first time in a decade.
The district is offering two options: one option is a one-time incentive to eligible employees that amounts to a one-time bonus of 18 percent of one’s base salary or $6,500 toward the employees’ current health care premiums, ending at age 65, when Medicare kicks in. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the $6,500 and the 18% bonus would be offered together.)
The other option is the 18 percent bonus plus an additional $6,000 bonus. The $6,000 bonus is always offered retiring employees who meet certain criteria, in accordance with union contracts, whether the incentive is offered or not.
“I think it’s important to stress–because this seems to be a point of confusion–it is completely voluntary,” Katie Hansen, president of the Flagler County Education Association, the teachers union, said this evening. “This is something if an employee feels it is to their benefit, they can retire by July 31.” Hansen added: “I don’t want anyone to get the sense we’re pushing people out.”
It is not yet clear how many employees will take up the district’s offer. When it was last offered, in 2010-11 and in 2011-12, when the district was struggling out of the Great Recession, 28 employees opted in the first year and 25 did so the second year, with 17 teachers, 17 transportation employees and the rest spread out between different department, accounting for the combined total.
The nation plunged into recession in February. Local governments and school districts are expecting difficult budget years ahead and preparing for more austere spending. But the Flagler County school district, like all school districts across the nation, is also looking for ways to accommodate employees anxious about returning to a workplace where their age or their pre-existing conditions might put them at higher risk of getting infected with the coronavirus.
“Where we are with Covid-19, I’m sure all of you have seen the studies nationwide about many employees that are worried about going back into the school building or back into their work because of their health or for other reasons,” the district’s finance director, Patty Wormeck, told school board members when she referred to the early-retirement proposal at a workshop last week. “So I think this is something positive that we can offer our employees that may feel that way.”
Cathy Mittelstadt, the new superintendent entering just her second week on the job, was in wall-to-wall meetings and couldn’t be reached today. But Wormeck in an email conveyed her thoughts: “She wants to reiterate that this incentive offer is the result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We realize there are many veteran employees who are struggling with the decision on whether or not to come back to work. She believes every situation is different, but this incentive program would give them an option to do what they feel is best for them and their family.”
Wormeck said that if all 165 eligible employees were to opt into the early retirement incentive, the upfront cost to the district would be approximately $800,000–$470,000 for instructional employees and $330,000 for non-instructional employees. But the district is also expected to benefit from lighter payrolls as a result, since older employees who have gone through the 20 steps of pay increases and accumulated other supplemental pay through additional degrees and the like would be replaced by younger employees just starting up the step ladder. The difference in pay is substantial, so the savings to the district would not be minor. But those numbers are still unknown.
“It would not be appropriate to use this same makeup of individuals to determine what our net savings would be for the 2020-21 fiscal year, as it heavily depends on who would take the incentive and who their actual replacement would be,” Wormeck said.
As far as instructional personnel is concerned, the top of the salary schedule is a little more than $74,404 a year. The average salary of the instructional employees eligible for the retirement package is $67,500, according to Hansen. “That is definitely where the district’s savings would come into play,” Hansen said, as those salaries are replaced by substantially lower ones.
But there’s a different cost: the loss of a great deal of experience. “That’s always a concern,” Hansen said. “Our veteran teachers bring so much to the table, knowledge, experience, things our newby teachers don’t walk out of college with.” But the county, an A district, has not experienced the sort of teacher shortage many other counties have, she said, suggesting that it will likely attract the better teachers again.
Estelle Piasecki, president of the Flagler Educational Support Professional Association, and Hansen (the two unions representing district employees) signed the memorandum of understanding with the district on June 5 after a bargaining session with Jerry Copeland, the district’s negotiator. Hansen said the negotiating session was amicable, as those sessions have historically tended to be.
The unions’ ratification vote will be done by mail, with the results expected on June 22. The school board is slated to vote on the proposal on June 16 (next Tuesday), leaving July as the window for employees to make a decision.
According to the memo, the employee must be eligible for full retirement under the Florida Retirement System but has not previously retired through FRS. (Many employees retire then return after sitting out the required period.) Full retirement is defined as having had 30 years in FRS or being 62 or older. To be eligible, the employee must have been a Flagler district employee for at least 10 years–and those who put in their retirement papers before June 15 are not eligible.
Interested employees are expected to contact the district’s human resources department through July.
This is what 2020 was really about, recession and getting cheap with an offer for early retirement to what really smalls like age discrimination.
I hope this is the beginning of the end of all public sector unions.
“… $800,000–$470,000 for instructional employees and $330,000 for non-instructional employees.”
Sounds like non-instructional doesn’t get paid much.
CB from PC says
They should make Early Retirement model like it is in most of the Corporate world.
Company decides You are old and here is your goose egg bonus.