The Westside school board took a first look Monday at a proposed voluntary early retirement program that essentially condenses two past policies.
The new policy, which would take effect next fall and run five years, would replace two previous policies that the board amended in October, essentially phasing them out after one last offering this year.
The proposed policy, said Eric Weber, assistant superintendent for human resources, would provide greater predictability for taxpayers and allow administrators to do a better job of budgeting. Both would provide a more accurate estimate of their annual cost.
In an ideal world, Weber said, the district wouldn't change the program, which it has long used to retain experienced teachers. But Westside Community Schools are pinched by rising costs, a state spending lid and a change in state law that will include the cost of such programs under spending limits as of Sept.1.
Previously, school districts had been allowed to place such costs outside the lid.
Administrators said last fall that they would propose a new program this spring, but it had to be sustainable.
Weber said the new policy would limit longevity-based cash payments to employees who have been with District 66 at least 20 years and are at least 60 years old.
It also limits to 10 the number of people who could retire each year, with potential exceptions for hardships.
While the old policy provided cash payments only to teachers and administrators, the proposed policy would offer them to all employee groups covered under the previous two policies.
But the district would no longer provide life and medical insurance coverage for retiring employees as it has in the past. Rising health insurance premiums made budgeting for the program problematic.
However, those who turn 55 and have at least 20 years of service by Aug. 31 will be grandfathered in and will receive health and life insurance benefits when they retire.
Weber said preliminary estimates indicate that the proposed policy would keep costs to around $450,000 annually. They peaked at upward of $1 million.
Alan Bone, president of the Westside Education Association, said teachers would prefer insurance coverage for retirees instead of buyouts.
The district used to be known for the higher salaries it paid to teachers and other employees, but in the past 12 years that has slowly eroded, Bone said.
The early retirement proposal also could be perceived as a positive if savings are shifted to teacher salaries, he said.