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H.S. teachers facing quandary over medical benefits

By: Sarat Pratapchandran

Feb. 3, 2007

Teachers in Tempe high schools who have announced their intention to retire at the end of this school year are awaiting a decision from the district’s governing board on whether continued medical coverage will remain among their guaranteed benefits.

The so-far unresolved question has left a number of teachers unable to determine whether they should withdraw their notices of intent in time to meet a March 1 deadline. A board-appointed committee is studying the matter.

“The committee is expected to present a recommendation to the Governing Board by mid-February in order for potential retirees to have the information they need to make a final decision,” TUHSD Director of Communications Linda Littell said in response to emailed questions.

Littell said the district has received 26 notices of retirement this year, compared to nine last year.

“We will be receiving rescinding letters until March 1, so this number will change,” she said.

Littell noted that “there are various reasons that people retire, however the district is currently reviewing and will make a recommendation on future retiree health benefits.”

The discussion revolves around a once commonly implemented procedure used by Tempe Union and other school districts that pays existing medical insurance premiums until the retiree qualifies for Medicare at age 65.
Tempe has waffled on whether its policy should continue to include that longstanding provision, and two years ago didn’t decide in its favor until a number of teachers had missed a deadline to reconsider their planned retirement.

Most other districts have dropped the provision from their retirement programs altogether.

The president of the TUHSD teachers union, Richard Trujillo, did not respond to inquiries for the union’s position on the matter.

In the neighboring Kyrene School District, an official said the district is “seeing no trend in increased retirements.”

Vickie Middleton said 20 teachers have requested retirement at the end of this school year. In the 2005-06 school year the number was 24.

Asked whether Kyrene has developed incentives to keep highly qualified teachers from retiring, Middleton said in a written statement:
“Kyrene strives to maintain quality employees through our well developed curriculum, advanced technology, and comprehensive staff development offerings.”

Middleton noted that some teachers have returned to work for the district after retirement.

“As an incentive to return we offer a higher rate for substitute work than the regular daily rate and we offer full years of credited service on the salary schedule if they return to a contracted position.”

As part of its retirement policy, TUHSD allows retirees to return to work through a program administered by an outside consultant. However, Littell added, “There is no guarantee of employment after retirement to anyone.”
Kyrene does not source retired teachers back into its workforce through outside consulting companies, Middleton said.

“We do not have any employees hired through private firms.”

Middleton said she has no knowledge of how other districts handle the matter of continuing medical benefits for teachers who retire before age 65, nor was she aware of the issue being considered by the neighboring Tempe high school district.

A proposal is being considered that would combine Kyrene, Tempe Union and Tempe Elementary into a single, unified district.


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