“Golden Handshake” program incentivizes retirement

Stefanie Iojica, Editor-in-chief

As the district continues to face financial stress, Tam District has decided to implement a retirement incentive program, colloquially called the “Golden Handshake,” to encourage retirement from older and more experienced teachers. The program was approved in a board meeting Jan. 30.

According to the TUHSD First Interim Report (March 12, 2017), the district faces an $8 million budget deficit due to ballooning enrollment and the administration’s failure to adequately cut extraneous costs. Measure J, passed last November, made up for $5 million of that deficit. The savings from the Golden Handshake, along with other savings, will presumably make up for the remaining $3 million.

“If enough teachers and staff voluntarily sign up for it, and it does indeed provide financial savings for the district, the savings will be immediate next year and for an ongoing period of time,” said the district’s Chief Financial Officer Corbett Elsen The projected savings over the next five years is $656,669, according to a presentation from a board meeting approving the plan.

While brainstorming ways to cut down on costs, the district considered cutting staff members. This was highly unpopular among the community and school members, with over 300 letters alone protesting the proposal to cut the librarians. Eventually, the proposal to cut librarians was cut, for now. “Compared to other districts that I’ve worked in, this district had money, and we were able to make nicer decisions,” Principal Liz Seabury said.

However, that was in the past. Now, the district has to make some hard decisions about what programs, classes, and staff to keep. The Golden Handshake, Elsen believes, will help bridge this deficit. The program offers a monetary incentive to any employees over the age of 55 leaving from the district this year to encourage retirement. Of 143 eligible certified and classified employees from across the district, 43 will be retiring with the Golden Handshake this year.

In the past, when staff members retired from Tam District, if they qualified, they were given a retirement bonus of $24,000. This year, the district decided to make it 80% of the staff’s annual salary over a period of time. This way, the number of teachers at the school decreases, and with it, the number of teachers the district has to pay.

“It was done in an effort to allow those people who were already thinking of retirement anyway to leave with some more money and then create some space in our master schedule. Some of our departments have more teachers than we need.” Seabury said.

In order to be eligible for the program, certificated employees must have worked in the district for five years and be over the age of 55, or have worked in the district for 30 years and be over the age of 50. Students interests may change, and their course selections often reflect that.

After school begins in August, class sizes start to dwindle as students realize that a course is too difficult or not the right fit for them. This year, there were enough students signed up for AP U.S. History that the school ran four sections, knowing that there were going to be some drops.

However, so many people dropped the class that those sections are running really small, something not currently feasible with the deficit. Classe size needs to increase, with 25 to 30 students being the minimum.

Any classes with less than that are threatened to be cut. Moreover, teachers with more years of service, experience, and higher education are paid more than newer and less experienced teachers. For certificated staff with a masters degree, the pay scale tops out at $115,075 after 15 years.

Classified staff’s salary tops out after 10 years. If the school decides to refill those positions, it would be with younger and less experienced teachers. According to the board’s presentation, “Fiscal savings are achieved by replacing the retiring employee, who is typically at the top of the salary schedule, with a replacement employee at the bottom of the salary schedule.”

The reduction in salaries combined with requisite expenses such as contributions to the state’s Teacher Retirement system will save the district a lot of money. Martha Cederstrom, who will be retiring this year, is at the very top of the pay scale and anticipates that she will be replaced with someone younger and less experienced.

“They can replace me with somebody who costs them a lot less money.” Some teachers, like Beth Cederstrom, have decided not to take advantage of the program after initially considering it. “It works for specific teachers but maybe not for others, it depends on how they want to spend their time and the rest of their years and if they can afford to do it or not.” she said.

She’s decided not to do it after realizing that she would make more money if she just continued working. Michelle Lackney, Mary Jane Jones, Martha Cederstrom, and Sheila BennetNewton had already handed in their retirement notices prior to the program implementation. Joining them, certificated staff Fred Beale, Shelly Norstad, Kay Cavan, Mary Boston, David Smith, and Michelle Lackney will be taking advantage of the program, as well as Susanne DeFino, John Knapp, Jeff Broussard, and Kris Knutsen of the classified staff. Jen Mall will also be leaving.

In total, 15 staff members will leave after this year, almost ten percent of the total staff population. Martha Cederstrom is one of Drake’s most senior teachers. She’s retiring this year as part of the Golden Handshake after working at Drake as the 2D art teacher for 30 years. “I was thrilled, I was like, ‘Oh yay, I get a whole unexpected amount of money,” said Cederstrom