Program to cost almost $2 million over five years
By Jacob Mathias
About 30 local teachers and educators attended this week’s human resources committee meeting at Bliss Educational Services Center- many saying they’re worried about losing a retirement stipend which ends early next year.
The benefit, which was instituted in 2012, offers qualifying teachers and support staff a $500 monthly benefit toward their health insurance premium for five years following retirement. The program is scheduled to expire on January 15, 2016.
According to Florence Haley, HR director for the district, about 60 teachers in a position to retire next year are unable to make a decision to do so because there’s little information available on the future of the benefit.
Haley also said due to lagging negotiations between the district and the Stevens Point Area Education Association, three years of back pay has yet to be processed by the Wisconsin Retirement System, which only adds to the problem.
“We send that information [to the state] but we have no control over when it’s processed, [or] what they do with it,” Haley said.
Haley said benefits from the 2011-12 school year still haven’t been processed by WRS, and the 2014-15 school year negotiations still haven’t been approved by the board.
“We are just in a waiting mode at this time from the WRS,” said Haley. “As the employees said, they’re in a wait mode too.”
Teachers say they need more information.
“We can’t get an accurate picture of what our retirement benefit would be to make that retirement decision,” said Kathy Weisbrod, a former teacher and now educational assistant. “To ask people to say by January 15 whether they’re going to retire or not is asking them to make a decision without enough information.”
To qualify for the benefit, retiring staff must be at least 55 years old, have served the district for at least 15 years at the time of retirement and submit retirement notice by Jan. 15.
Haley said the district could allow the benefit window to close as planned- which she said could affect employee morale- or end the program as planned but grandfather the current eligible employees into the program for a future date. The latter option would increase administration of the program and reduce any savings the district may see from outgoing salaries, she said.
Business Services Director Tom Owens said if the program is extended, money will need to be found elsewhere in the budget and could result in cutting some programs or services.
The program could also be continued through the 2016-17 school year but this would create more eligible teachers for the program and add an additional cost liability to the district.
Owens said if all eligible teachers were to take advantage of the benefit, the cost to the district would be $30,000 per teacher for five years for a total of $1.8 million.
“These guys need to make decisions they’re not getting enough information to make accurate decisions,” said Board Member Trish Baker. “Because of WRS but also because we were so poky about getting all the contracts done. If we would have been better about getting the contracts done, they would at least have that piece of information.”
The committee made a recommendation to the school board of ending the program as planned.
The board will discuss the issue at 6:30 PM on Dec. 14 in the Bliss Educational Services Center, 1900 Polk Street.