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Forest Grove teachers get more time to grab early retirement incentive

New deadline to apply for incentive is May 9

Teachers were granted a one-month extension Monday to the deadline for an early retirement option viewed as a cost-saving measure for the beleaguered Forest Grove School District budget.

School board members voted unanimously to give the district's highest-paid teachers more time to mull over the offer to take $850 a month for two years, plus their Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) payments, after retiring at the end of this year.

As of Monday, 11 teachers had accepted the district's offer.

'I know many more are considering it, but they need the time to get the information they need from PERS,' said Dave Willard, assistant superintendent. By pushing the deadline to four days after Superintendent Yvonne Curtis's annual budget message (May 5), Willard hopes staff members 'will have a better idea of the depth of the budget cuts and how [they] will impact their program and them personally.'

As district officials build the 2011-12 budget, they'll be cutting expenses by roughly 20 percent, or between $7 million and $11 million, based on projections from state and federal revenue sources. The early retirement program would save about $180,000, but only if 18 or more teachers participate.

That's the bottom line for Willard, who himself is retiring from his $126,706-a-year post at the end of June and will take on a part-time human resources job with the district next year.

'Reap the benefits'

When teachers at the top of the salary schedule retire, it saves money since those hired - or not laid off - are lower on the salary schedule.

It also saves on unemployment costs and allows the district to keep younger teachers and 'reap the benefits of the heavy financial investment made in their professional development during their early years of service with the district,' Willard added.

The current list of retirees includes teachers with as few as seven years' tenure in the district and four with more than 25 years' service.

Salaries of those retiring range from $52,276 a year to $74,078, not counting the days cut from the 2010-11 school calendar as a cost-saving measure. Five of the teachers are earning more than $73,174 this year.

Since the district most likely will lay off between 50 and 70 teachers when officials make their final budget cuts this spring, it makes sense for teachers nearing retirement to think hard about taking the incentive.

Still, 'there is so much more to that decision than just the financial piece,' Willard said. 'Many teachers love what they do, and the decision to leave that work is not easy.'

Even before the school board voted in February to offer teachers early retirement, Willard knew of about six teachers who likely would have chosen to retire.

Only teachers who have worked 15 years or more in the district or are at the top of their pay scales qualify for the program. If accepted, they will be eligible to substitute teach in the district in the coming years.