District should save the experienced

School District 51 is trying to work its way through the unenviable process of cutting its current budget and looking ahead to cuts in the 2010–2011 budget.

All the usual methods of rescuing budgets are now in play, from clamping down on travel to taking money from reserves.

One method the School Board is considering has merit, but not so much in the way of its core purpose of education.

We’re referring to the possibility of offering early retirement to the employees who will be 50 next year or who have served for 20 years. Officials say that if 160 employees eligible for early retirement take the district up on its early-retirement offer, the district could cut $2.5 million from its 2010–2011 budget.

The school district must live within a budget, to be sure, and cost cutting is a necessity when revenues fall, as they have done and might well continue to do.

Early retirements, though, won’t zero out the projected revenue drops, and the board should seriously consider the toll of immeasurable losses on education from early retirements.

Figuring 20 years of experience — and that’s probably on the low side — per employee, the early-retirement program could cost the district 3,200 years of experience. It also represents the loss of about four of those experienced teachers per school.

The pages of this newspaper routinely discuss the kinds of challenges faced by teachers.

They must deal with homeless children, children whose grasp of English is limited, children whose families are damaged, separated or under some degree of pressure. Sometimes parents are absent, sometimes they’re in jail, sometimes they’re physically present, but incapable of supporting the teaching efforts.

All those things, and more, play out in classrooms, and they’re difficult enough for teachers with years of experience to handle.

Sending off 160 or more teachers to reduce payroll and replacing them with younger teachers who rank lower on the pay scale could very well have long-term consequences not immediately visible on the ledger books, but which nonetheless restrict the ability of the district to do the job this community has tasked it to do — teach children.

Clearly, financial realities are of immediate priority and we’re not pollyannish enough to think otherwise.

But we’d like to see the district search for ways to retain experience rather than encouraging solid teachers to leave while they still have much to offer.


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