Retirement Concerns for Maine Educators

A Bangor Daily News article last week pointed out what at least one Maine school superintendent is doing in response to Maine Governor Paul LePage’s proposals around teacher and state employee retirement.  Dr. O’Neill is being proactive and making the best deal he can for himself given the current, uncertain, state of affairs.

Many Collective Bargaining Agreements contain a deadline – some already past – about educators notifying the school system of their retirement so as to collect the equivalent of up to 30 days unused sick leave to be put toward their final earnings calculations [5 MRSA 17006(13)(B)].

Given the Governor’s proposals, the question local Associations – who represent large numbers of active teachers and other school professionals around Maine, but not superintendents – in the immediacy should be: what can we do, via the collective bargaining process, to protect our members?

When I put this very basic question out there via the Save Our Retirement group on Facebook, the following exchange occurred:

Me: I can only hope that MEA has already provided advice to local Associations on this matter so their members will be as protected as possible given the situation. I hope, but doubt.

[Member]: Nancy, haven’t heard a thing.

Blakney: Given that there is no rehiring plan as of yet (Sawin [Millett, Maine’s Commissioner of Department of Administrative & Financial Services] said last Friday they hadn’t yet come up with a plan and got laughed at) from the LePage admin, it would be difficult to provide guidance.

Joyce Blakney is the Treasurer of the Maine Education Association.  I completely disagree with her that it is “difficult to provide guidance” in this situation.  Certainly it would not be possible to solve address every concern, but not provide guidance? Come on.

So, recognizing that I am simply a retired kibbitzer, here’s my thought on possible language that could be negotiated between local Associations and school board/committees that would – at least – give teachers and other school professionals as much as time as possible to make such an important and personal decision as retiring, particularly when they may not be ready to do so under normal circumstances:

ADDENDUM to the COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT:

Despite any contract language to the contrary, for the 2010-2011 school year any bargaining unit member considering retirement must submit a Letter of Intent to Retire to the Superintendent of Schools and School Board/Committee no later than the final day of the school year.

The unit member will provide written notification to the Office of the Superintendent of his/her final decision to retire, or not to retire, within seven days of the Governor’s signature on whatever bill that makes changes to the current Maine Public Employees Retirement System language for teachers in the State of Maine [5 MRSA 17001, et seq].

All other benefits of the collective bargaining agreement will apply to a bargaining unit member who chooses to retire under the provisions of this agreement.

Obviously, there are lots of tweaks that could be made to this, but the basic concept should provide some breathing room for teachers and other professionals so long as it is in place sooner rather than later.  Any member or local Association leader thinking about this, please contact your area’s UniServ Director for further information.

Footnote: MEA’s lobbyist, Steve Crouse, was a member of the Unified Retirement Plan Task Force that issued a report just about a year ago.  According to the Executive Summary, “The purpose of this report is to respond to the reporting requirement of Maine State Resolve 111, “To Reform Public Retirement Benefits and Eliminate Social Security Offsets” passed in May, 2009, by the 124th Legislature. The reason for the legislation is to design a unified pension and health benefit plan for all state employees and teachers who are first employed after December 31, 2010 with no prior creditable service.” Clearly the issue of pension reform – and therefore potential impacts – is not a surprise to anyone, particularly MEA.

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Filed under Collective Bargaining, Education in Maine, MEA

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