San Diego Coaxes Teacher Retirement to Help Close Budget Deficit

The San Diego School District has come up with a budget plan that relies on the elimination of jobs left vacant through attrition to balance, and Maureen Magee of U-T San Diego reports that teachers are resisting the effort of the district to coax them off the payroll.

In an effort to help close an estimated $92 million deficit to next year’s $1.1 billion operation budget, the district offered early-retirement bonuses to a broader pool of employees than was initially planned in order to cut personnel expenses.

The latest offer of $25,000 buyouts has been canceled by the district due to a lack of interest among teachers. That will spare the district the expense of giving bonuses retroactively to some teachers who retired last year.

The district first offered buyouts to teachers with 25 years of experience who retired in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.  Their hope was to secure 300 retirements each year, but only 88 teachers took the buyout last year, so the offer was extended to a minimum of 100 teachers with at least 20 years of seniority.

The second round of bonuses was canceled because only 61 teachers with a minimum of 20 years experience committed to retiring.

If 100 teachers had taken the deal by submitting irrevocable retirement papers by May 1, two dozen teachers who retired last school year would have been retroactively eligible for the $25,000 bonuses. In other words, San Diego Unified would have been obligated to spend $600,000 in retirement bonuses for educators who are no longer employed by the district.

This plan angered many parent activists who think the money would be better utilized in the classroom.

So far, 195 teachers that qualify for the early retirement incentive with 25 years of experience submitted preliminary papers that declare their intent to retire this year. 119 of those plans have been finalized, and a few dozen more teachers who don’t qualify for the bonuses have indicated that they might retire this year.

The early retirement program is extremely important to San Diego Unified because it is the district’s main strategy to cut costs. In addition, the district also plans to sell off real estate to close the deficits through next year.

The budget plan is compassionate, according to Superintendent Bill Kowba, because it allows the district to avoid large-scale layoffs. The school board is expected to eliminate jobs for the 2013-14 school year that have been left open due to promotion and other reasons.

The district hopes to fill the crucial positions that will be left open with “excess teachers”:

“It’s not the attrition that saves us money,” Stover said. “The savings comes when the excess teachers we have are able to go into those (attritted) positions and we no longer have to carry those excess salaries.”

It is a risky plan, since it assumes that the excess teachers are qualified to fill the open positions — otherwise the district will have to hire new teachers.

The school board must adopt a final budget by June 30th.