Educator exits linked in part to benefit plan

At least 74 people are retiring from School District 51 this school year — nearly 60 percent more than last year — with at least a few employees’ exits influenced by the end of a use-it-or-lose-it retirement benefit.

At least 25 soon-to-be district retirees are taking advantage of a retirement benefit that will give them a payout equivalent to half of their current salary upon leaving the district. The benefit sunsets June 30, a deadline that was set back in 2005. Employees with 20 years of experience who resign before that date may also qualify for the payout.

District 51 Human Resources Executive Director Colleen Martin said she expected the benefit’s end to translate into more retirements this year. Some retirees were ready to go, she said, while she has heard from others that they weren’t as ready for the deadline as they had anticipated years ago.

“There are some unintended consequences where we have people leaving who felt they needed to take advantage (of the benefit) but weren’t ready to retire,” Martin said. “We’re losing great people with a lot of institutional knowledge. It’s sad to see them go.”

Among those retiring or resigning who qualify for the benefit are Executive Director of Academic Achievement for Elementary Schools Lesley Rose, R-5 High Principal Anna Goetz, Grand Mesa Middle School Principal Mark Vana, Rim Rock Elementary Principal Tami Kramer, Maintenance and Operations Director Cal Clark, Attendance Director Fred Bolton, Special Education Coordinator Jan Blair, and technology managers Angela Jones and Kathy Schlauger.

District 51 Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen and Fruita Monument High School Principal Jan Keirns are retiring as well this year but are not eligible for the benefit.

Martin said the district has had a “longevity benefit” since 1981, starting with a flat amount based on age at retirement, ranging from $1,000 at age 64 to $10,000 at age 55. The benefit was revamped in 1992 to reward staff based on years of service instead of age, giving those with 20 or more years of service the equivalent of half of their ending salary as a bonus upon retirement.

The benefit changed again in 2005, when eligible employees were given an option to either stick with the 50 percent payout or incrementally increase their salaries, going up by 1.33 percent per year until they maxed out at a 4 percent salary increase in the third year.

The differential salary scale will continue for those who chose the incremental increases but Martin said she expects 34 administrators, teachers and classified employees who chose the 50 percent payment instead to forfeit the benefit by staying in their jobs next school year.

There are no current plans to extend another retirement benefit to employees, but District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee said it’s always a possibility a new benefit could pop up someday.

The district has a 10-year average of 67 retirees per year, with annual retirement tallies ranging from 34 in 2010-11 to 147 the previous year. The district offered an early retirement option in 2009-10 as part of a budget-saving effort in response to state revenue cuts. The option offered teachers and other non-administrative staff 55 or older who had 15 or more years of experience in the district the equivalent of 75 percent of their salary each year for four years if they retired by June 30, 2010.

At least 74 people are retiring from School District 51 this school year — nearly 60 percent more than last year — with at least a few employees’ exits influenced by the end of a use-it-or-lose-it retirement benefit.

At least 25 soon-to-be district retirees are taking advantage of a retirement benefit that will give them a payout equivalent to half of their current salary upon leaving the district. The benefit sunsets June 30, a deadline that was set back in 2005. Employees with 20 years of experience who resign before that date may also qualify for the payout.

District 51 Human Resources Executive Director Colleen Martin said she expected the benefit’s end to translate into more retirements this year. Some retirees were ready to go, she said, while she has heard from others that they weren’t as ready for the deadline as they had anticipated years ago.

“There are some unintended consequences where we have people leaving who felt they needed to take advantage (of the benefit) but weren’t ready to retire,” Martin said. “We’re losing great people with a lot of institutional knowledge. It’s sad to see them go.”

Among those retiring or resigning who qualify for the benefit are Executive Director of Academic Achievement for Elementary Schools Lesley Rose, R-5 High Principal Anna Goetz, Grand Mesa Middle School Principal Mark Vana, Rim Rock Elementary Principal Tami Kramer, Maintenance and Operations Director Cal Clark, Attendance Director Fred Bolton, Special Education Coordinator Jan Blair, and technology managers Angela Jones and Kathy Schlauger.

District 51 Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen and Fruita Monument High School Principal Jan Keirns are retiring as well this year but are not eligible for the benefit.

Martin said the district has had a “longevity benefit” since 1981, starting with a flat amount based on age at retirement, ranging from $1,000 at age 64 to $10,000 at age 55. The benefit was revamped in 1992 to reward staff based on years of service instead of age, giving those with 20 or more years of service the equivalent of half of their ending salary as a bonus upon retirement.

The benefit changed again in 2005, when eligible employees were given an option to either stick with the 50 percent payout or incrementally increase their salaries, going up by 1.33 percent per year until they maxed out at a 4 percent salary increase in the third year.

The differential salary scale will continue for those who chose the incremental increases but Martin said she expects 34 administrators, teachers and classified employees who chose the 50 percent payment instead to forfeit the benefit by staying in their jobs next school year.

There are no current plans to extend another retirement benefit to employees, but District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee said it’s always a possibility a new benefit could pop up someday.

The district has a 10-year average of 67 retirees per year, with annual retirement tallies ranging from 34 in 2010-11 to 147 the previous year. The district offered an early retirement option in 2009-10 as part of a budget-saving effort in response to state revenue cuts. The option offered teachers and other non-administrative staff 55 or older who had 15 or more years of experience in the district the equivalent of 75 percent of their salary each year for four years if they retired by June 30, 2010.


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