March 3, 2011

Arlington trustees narrowly reject incentive for retiring teachers

Arlington trustees vote down a $2,500 bonus for teachers who announce their retirements early.

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ARLINGTON -- The school board Thursday narrowly rejected a proposed $2,500 incentive for teachers to announce their plans to retire or resign before the district starts laying off 190 of them.

Some trustees said the cost -- about $475,000 if all 190 offers were taken -- was excessive since they didn't believe it would encourage more teachers to leave. The vote was 4-3.

Superintendent Jerry McCullough has announced plans to lay off 390 employees, including 190 teachers, as part of a $15.3 million budget-cutting plan. The district is facing a $35 million reduction in state funding under proposed legislation that would cut about $10 billion in funding to school districts.

The district's current budget already includes a $13.3 million deficit, which would make the total shortfall more than $48 million.

Associate Superintendent Cindy Powell recommended that the layoff incentives, which several other area districts have approved or are considering, be funded from the district's $20 million fund of revenues from gas-lease contracts.

Some trustees and other district officials have resisted calls to dip into the fund to help solve the budget crunch, saying it shouldn't be used for recurring costs. But several board members said the incentives plan would be an acceptable use of the gas fund.

McCullough said the purpose of the incentives was to encourage teachers who have already decided to leave to notify the district early -- by March 11. Powell said the eventual layoffs could lead to expensive hearings, but several board members said they didn't see spending that money without prospects of encouraging other teachers to change their minds.

"If you make $50,000 a year, you're not going to quit your career for $2,500,'' trustee Wayne Ogle said.

Trustee Bowie Hogg said he would support dipping into the gas fund but only up to the amount of the accrued interest. He opposed using the principal and voted against the incentives, along with trustees Peter Baron, Aaron Reich and Ogle. Board President Gloria Pena and trustees John Hibbs and Jamie Sullins voted for the plan.

Hogg said the measure could come up again during the budget process. The district has been looking at terminating hundreds of probationary teachers, those with one, two or three years of service.

Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association, said he wasn't sure the incentive would make a difference.

Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641

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