School districts helped by early retirements
WORTHINGTON -- When Worthington District 518 Schools posed an early retirement option to teachers this year, Superintendent John Landgaard anticipated they may get nine or 10 willing to take the district up on its offer.
Instead, they received 14 notifications from teachers willing to call it quits after this school year. Between them, the teachers have a combined 437 years of service to the school district.
"That's a major loss of investment by the district, and experience and dedication that is really difficult to replace," Landgaard said. "They have expertise that has developed over time, and you just don't expect to find people to pick up where they left off right away."
District 518 has already started advertising for positions being vacated, and some interviews have already been scheduled.
"We try to do most of our hiring by late May anyway," Landgaard said. "We try to identify (positions) early on so we're not doing our hiring in July or August."
This was the first time in about seven years that District 518 offered an early retirement option to its teachers, he said, adding that the reason they did so now was primarily because of budgeting.
"If you hire a first-year teacher versus (paying) a 30-year veteran, there's a substantial difference," Landgaard said.
The 14 early retirements will free up some additional money in the school district; money Landgaard said can be used to implement "various projects."
Teachers in District 518 had to notify administration by Feb. 1 if they wanted to take the early retirement option. Landgaard said they had identified 15 to 17 teachers who were potentially eligible for early retirement.
"There were some qualifications they had to fall into," he explained of the early retirement option. "They had to be at least 56 years old, they had to have worked in the district for 15 years -- those were the two primary (qualifications)."
Those taking early retirement will receive $5,000 per year for up to five years, money that will be transferred directly into their health savings account.
"Once they qualify for Medicare, they no longer qualify for early retirement," Landgaard said.
Taking the early retirement option in District 518 are Sheryl Hoekstra, Lana Grimmius, Sue Pennings-Witzel, Karen Weinandt, Jan Larson, Jeanette Varuska, Myrna Nystrom, Denise Schlichte, Clasine Lester, Patrick Shaughnessy, Barb Regnier, Mike Traphagen, Ron Vorwald and Cam Aker.
"Some of them planned to retire this year anyway," Landgaard said. "There's some that were looking at it, but this was just the motivation for them to go a little earlier than they had planned."
At Windom Area Schools, business manager Peggy Pfeffer said they've had one teacher submit a request for early retirement thus far. Teachers there have until April 1 to notify the district of their intent, and the school board must approve all requests before information is released on who has accepted the option.
"The superintendent has had discussions with others," Pfeffer said, adding that about a handful of teachers accepted the early retirement option when it was offered last year.
"The total offered last year was $17,000, and they said they weren't going to offer anything this year. Nothing was built into the budget," she explained. "The union requested one be offered; the board discussed options available and opted on the $9,000 maximum."
Pfeffer said the money given to teachers varies depending on the district's cost to replace that teacher.
"If the teacher is in a hard-to-fill position, the superintendent has the option to offer a lesser amount," she said, adding that elementary education is a common area and easier to fill, making it more likely those teachers could collect the maximum amount offered.
At Sibley-Ocheyedan Community School District, Superintendent Tom Becker said five early retirement options were accepted during that district's February board meeting. Among those leaving after this school year are Lorenda Glade, Marie Wallace, Cindy Kemp, Mike Earll and Rick Braby.
Gary Fischer, superintendent of Luverne Public Schools, said their district hasn't offered an early retirement option since he's been in the position. Fischer said the district may have offered it once, but it was so long ago he couldn't recall when it was.
At Jackson County Central School District, an early retirement option was last offered a decade ago; and at Fulda, Superintendent Luther Onken said they had three teachers accept an early retirement option last year. It wasn't offered this year.
"It was just something that was a benefit to our district at the time," Onken said of the offering. "These were people that we didn't have to replace through declining enrollments. It was beneficial for both the school and the staff for us to offer and for them to take advantage of."
MCC offered extended health benefits over a four-year period if they took the early retirement option.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.