OTHER VOICES

Auto-Hiring Should End

Posted Aug. 01, 2012, at 5:12 p.m.

Hardly any of us would think twice about accepting a benefit that was perfectly legal and we saw others receiving.

So we can’t blame teachers, school administrators, police chiefs and other government workers for seizing the opportunity to retire and keep on collecting a paycheck.

Who wouldn’t like to receive a gigantic pay raise while doing the same job?

But we also admire Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster’s perfectly legal and principled decision not to play that game. When a teacher or administrator retires from the Lewiston schools, they will be retired from teaching or administrating in that system.

Predictability, the new policy rankles teachers who had not yet taken advantage of the lucrative perk, and it bothers at least one school board member who retired and then returned to education in other capacities.

Well, there’s a new sheriff in town and we have a strong suspicion the taxpaying public would support Bill Webster’s position. In fact, we have no doubt it would.

Only a small and rapidly diminishing number of private-sector employees even have defined benefit pensions. Public sector workers do, although the governor and the Republican Legislature sharply redefined those public plans last year.

Again, among most nongovernment workers — many of whom not only earn less than today’s teachers while working but are looking forward to a life of far more modest Social Security benefits — there was widespread support for Gov. Paul LePage’s plan.

On a practical level, Webster’s rule may be right 90 percent of the time, but it may also be foolhardy not to allow for exceptions, especially in a rural state like Maine.

In a Sun Journal story Sunday, Rob Walker of the Maine Education Association said all districts don’t “have the luxury” of refusing to hire retirees.

In Fort Kent, he pointed out, a physics teacher who is gifted and talented retired and then the district couldn’t find a comparable person to take the job.

So, the school did the practical thing to benefit students — it rehired the employee into the same job.

That’s the way any employment system is supposed to work — find the most qualified person and hire him or her.

Judging by the large number of teachers and administrators taking advantage of this perk, that is clearly not happening in all districts.

In too many places, there is a wink-and-nod agreement between principals and superintendents to rehire recent retirees into their old job.

That is wrong and it should change.

When a person retires, he or she should be told they are welcome to apply for the position, but unless they have exceptional skills that simply cannot be replaced, they will not be offered a job.

No guarantees; just a roll of the dice.

Sure, experience matters in any job. But new employees bring new ideas and often different competencies to a job. Simple seniority has far too long been the coin of the realm in education.

The decision to rehire a retired teacher should be supported by evidence and the ultimate decision should be made by the elected school board, not a principal or even superintendent who may have a vested interest in this archaic process.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (July31)

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