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Plan for teachers' retirement incentive leads board discussion

WORTHINGTON -- A draft proposal for a teachers' retirement incentive was the main topic of discussion at the regular meeting of the District 518 board of directors Tuesday evening.

The proposal, presented by Superintendent John Landgaard, would be a one-time offer providing $5,000 per year for five years in a Health Savings Account (HSA) for qualifying teachers who would retire at the end of the 2012-13 academic year.

"I'd hate to lose good, experienced teachers, but with a potential savings of $60,000 to $100,000 a year, it's wise to continue investigating the option," volunteered director Steve Schnieder.

Landgaard reported that as many as 30 teachers might meet the qualifications (including at least 15 years of teaching in District 518), and that 30 to 35 brand-new teachers began working in the district over the past two years.

"The advantage is this would create the opportunity for those who are thinking about retirement, but still needing health insurance," said Landgaard. "Also, as our school system changes, and new learning devices are introduced, maybe there are some teachers who don't wish to be trained on those, so this would make it a good time to go."

While some board members either spoke favorably of the proposal or remained silent on the question, others expressed doubt that the retirement incentive was necessary, fair or even a sound idea.

"With student achievement being a question, and because we don't need this for financial reasons, I'd hate to lose teachers who are doing a good job with closing the achievement gap," board member Linden Olson said. "And mentors and training are needed to bring new teachers up to speed."

Board member Scott Rosenberg echoed Olson's thoughts.

"The question on the education end is what's the value of experience versus the enthusiasm of a first-year teacher," Rosenberg said. "All teachers do eventually retire, but those retirements are normally spaced out over several years, and then there would need to be more training for new teachers all at once."

"I don't think those teachers will all run out," countered board member Joel Lorenz. "There's not a big enough incentive."

"And if they're ready to retire anyway, why offer them $5,000 extra?" Rosenberg asked.

Board member Mark Shepherd also wondered if any questions of fairness might be brought to the table by teachers who retired in the last year or two without receiving this offer or if, down the road, others might end up hanging on longer than desired -- maintaining hope that the school board might dangle another retirement incentive in the near future.

"The flip side is that if talented new teachers can be brought in, and someone who is already thinking about retiring does so one, two, three or four years earlier, then we don't lose those young teachers to another school district," Schnieder suggested.

Landgaard mentioned the board would have the option of capping the number of teachers who could take advantage of the incentive, and that a benefit of settling this soon would be the ability for the district to advertise for teachers in April, rather than July and August, thus having a stronger pool from which to draw.

Six board members voted in favor of taking the proposal to the local teachers' union for discussion. Shepherd cast the lone dissenting vote.

Other business was routine.

Board chair Brad Shaffer commended all the District 518 school buildings on their "fantastic" Veterans Day programs, and he congratulated Sharon Johnson and her Community Education staff on receiving the 2012 Commissioner's Circle of Excellence Award from the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Past meeting minutes were unanimously approved, as was the consent agenda and main meeting agenda. The board also unanimously accepted the Activity Account Audit, with Landgaard saying that a few additional internal controls had been put in place.

Director of Business Management David Skog reviewed the revenues and expenditures report, current through Oct. 31, and said nothing extraordinary was occurring in that realm.

"Everything at this point is running smoothly," Skog reported.

Landgaard shared that public meetings on the Flexible Learning Year (FLY) program were scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday and noon and 5 p.m. Dec. 3 in the Worthington High School (WHS) media center.

District 518 would need to apply to the Minnesota Department of Education in February, if the board approves the plan in January, to continue the FLY schedule for future years.

"How many districts in the FLY consortium are planning to continue it?" wondered Olson.

"All are moving forward with it, as far as I know," said Landgaard.

Upcoming District 518 meeting dates (all in WHS media center):

* FLY2 public meetings, 7 p.m., Monday, noon and 5 p.m. Dec. 3

* Facilities public meeting, 6:30 p.m. Dec. 10

* District 518 board meeting and Truth in Taxation hearing, 5:15 and 6 p.m. respectively, Dec. 18.