The Greater Johnstown School District and its teachers union have reached an agreement for the district to buy out teachers’ accumulated sick time as an incentive for them to retire.
District officials estimate that if 10 teachers — the minimum required for the deal to go forward — retire, the district could save $500,000 in salary and benefits for the 2009-10 school year.
Johnstown Teachers Association co-president Kathryn Zajicek said the district’s teachers union contract has no provision for paying for teachers’ accrued sick time but doing so would provide an incentive for early retirement, which is less expensive for the district than laying off teachers. She said each eligible teacher is being offered $21,000 to be put in a tax-deferred account. To be eligible, a teacher must have at least 100 unused sick days and meet the requirements of retirement. The district regains some of the cash if a teacher who accepts the binding deal later uses enough sick time to be left with fewer than 100 accrued days upon retirement.
The JTA has until Monday to come up with 10 eligible teachers to take the deal.
“I think we’re going to have 10 to 15 who are interested. That’d be about 10 percent of the [district’s total] teaching staff,” Zajicek said.
Johnstown has been exploring the option of closing one of its schools, probably an elementary school, and laying off a school worth of employees to address declining enrollment and reduced state funding. Johnstown currently has about 700 students worth of unused capacity at its schools, according to officials. Laying off the staff of one elementary school could save the district as much as $650,000.
Interim Business Manager Ralph Acquaro said the district would save money even though the combined cost of the buyouts could exceed $300,000. He said when a teacher retires, the cost of the teacher’s pension is entirely paid by the New York State Teachers Retirement System, whereas the district must pay the full cost of unemployment benefits for a laid-off teacher because the district doesn’t pay for unemployment insurance.
He said savings are also created by replacing highly paid retired teachers with starting teachers who make less than half as much in salary.
He added that the retirements could help the district significantly but still won’t remove the need for all layoffs because some of the retirees might be high school teachers and the need to reduce staff is at the elementary level.
“The genesis of this is we’re trying to avoid laying off people because people are going to lose their jobs here as soon as we close a school,” Acquaro said. “You have people we’d have to replace and you’d have people we don’t have to replace.”
Board of Education President Robert Curtis said the deal could help Johnstown reach its goal of a zero percent tax increase, despite the challenge of a roughly $650,000 reduction in anticipated state aid. He said the school board is also hoping to convince voters to approve a new lease for the district’s bus garage and the creation of a reserve fund for the district’s buses. He said the lower the tax increase, the greater the chances the public will approve those other measures.
“Sometimes if they vote down the budget, they vote everything down,” he said.