published Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Hamilton County: School system offers teachers updated buyout proposal


by Kelli Gauthier
Audio clip

Kenny Smith

Trying to lure additional would-be retirees, public school officials made slight changes to a proposed buyout plan before presenting it Monday to eligible employees.

There now would be four categories of employees eligible for a one-time bonus payment if they choose to retire from Hamilton County Schools at the end of the school year, said school system Chief Financial Officer Tommy Kranz.

Employees with 30 or more years of service would receive 25 percent of their total annual salary, those with 25 to 29 years would receive 20 percent, and employees with 20 to 24 years would receive a 15 percent payment.

Mr. Kranz also added a 10 percent “early retirement” bonus for employees 55 years or older who have at least five years of service in Tennessee.

The additional categories hopefully will encourage more employees to take the incentives, Mr. Kranz said, which would save the school system the money of their larger salaries.

BUYOUT PLAN

* 30 or more years of service: one-time bonus of 25 percent of total annual salary

* 25 to 29 years: 20 percent of salary

* 20-24 years: 15 percent of salary

* At least 55 years of age and five years of service: 10 percent of salary

Source: Tommy Kranz

“We’re not going to do ourselves much good if the people who take the incentive are the ones who would have retired anyway,” he said.

School administrators first proposed the multitiered buyout plan to the board’s Finance Committee last month as one way to chip away at the district’s projected $20.2 million deficit.

The more employees with larger salaries who accept the buyouts, the fewer nontenured, younger teachers must be laid off to balance the budget, administrators reasoned.

During a question-and-answer session in Tyner Academy’s auditorium, employees eligible for the buyouts were given a chance to ask questions of the administrators who drafted the plan.

Although Mr. Smith and board member Chester Bankston were present, Superintendent Jim Scales said the gathering was “closed” and asked several local media outlets, including the Times Free Press, to leave before the meeting began.

“It’s a staff meeting,” Dr. Scales said, with a smile.

Despite the broader availability of the proposed plan, reaction was mixed Monday among the employees present. Many teachers, especially those who said they might accept a buyout if it were offered, would not give their name, fearing what would happen if administrators knew they were considering retirement.

But Jimmie Marter, a Tyner Academy English teacher, said that, even after 35 years in the classroom, no incentive plan could make her retire right now.

“I just am not impressed with what they are offering,” the 59-year-old said. “I’m very passionate about my teaching. ... This is not in the cards for me right now. I feel like I’m not finished.”

Hamilton County Education Association President Sharon Vandagriff said she thought the meeting went well, but she still doubted many employees would take a buyout this year.

“I don’t see a lot of people taking advantage with the economy the way it is, but maybe I’ll be surprised,” she said.

After a second question-and-answer session today at 3:30 p.m. in Tyner’s auditorium, the Hamilton County Board of Education will vote on the retirement incentive at a special called meeting Thursday evening.

School board Chairman Kenny Smith said he now felt “very comfortable” with the plan, and expected other members to approve it as well.

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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