San Luis Coastal teachers offered early retirement

San Luis Coastal Unified School District could part ways with up to 40 of its longest tenured teachers in an effort to reduce payroll expenses.

The school district is offering an early retirement incentive as part of the recent deal reached with the teachers union. The details of the incentive are based on the number of teachers who choose to retire: 30 or fewer teachers will trigger a $30,000 bonus per instructor; up to 39 teachers will receive $40,000 each; for 40 teachers or more, each retiree will get a $50,000 boost.

The payouts will come from the district’s reserves, with the goal of ultimately saving money in later years by hiring new teachers at lower salaries. Teachers must be 55 years old and have worked for 10 years for the district at the time they leave. They can either retire or resign. Personnel Director Ryan Pinkerton said the retirement incentive could translate into a “huge cost savings” for the district.

He estimates that of the 140 teachers eligible for the incentive, at least 40 are likely to take it, which he said could translate into an ongoing savings of $2 million to $5 million a year.

The highest paid teachers in the district receive $88,568 annually plus benefits. Teachers at the beginning rung of the 25-step pay schedule are hired at $42,150.

San Luis Coastal, with 7,200 students enrolled in preschool through 12th grade, has a $74 million general fund budget for 2011-12.

Trustees voted last year to save money by increasing elementary class sizes and eliminating a longstanding program that provided teachers to adults with disabilities.

An agreement was reached in October with the union for a raise just above 4 percent over a three-year contract, with an additional 1 percent raise triggered in the 2012-13 academic year if a proposed teacher evaluation system is started by October.

The district has 443 teachers. Nearly 100 instructors are in the top two tiers of the district’s pay scale, many of them earning more than $80,000 a year.

Eligible teachers must decide by Jan. 30 whether they plan to take the deal.

“The more people that do it, the more cost savings the district is going to see,” Pinkerton said. “It is a win-win situation — a win for the retiring employee and a win for the district.”

This is the first time such a plan has been offered in close to a decade, Pinkerton said.

Bruce Badrigian, president of the San Luis Coastal Teachers Association, has spoken in favor of the retirement incentive in the past, saying it would not only reduce employment costs, but also open opportunities to hire teachers trained in new methodologies.

Once a final tally of retiring teachers is taken, administrators will look at staffing levels and decide whether new teachers need to be hired.

“We are going to lose some great teachers,” Pinkerton said. “But to the same extent we are also going to gain some great new staff. There are a lot of people in this day and age looking for jobs.”