Taking a page from the private sector, Riverside-Brookfield High School is paying early retirement bonuses to cut costs. At the end of this school year, District 208 will pay $25,000 bonuses to three veteran teachers to get them to retire one year earlier than they had planned.
The early retirements could save RBHS about $300,000 next year as the administration looks to cut $1.5 to 2 million from next year’s budget.
The goal of the buyouts is to lessen the need to lay off current teachers, said District 208 school board President Matt Sinde.
Social studies teacher Jan Goldberg, band director and instrumental music teacher Kevin McOlgan and applied technology teacher Bruce Specht had all planned on retiring at the end of the 2012-13 school year, but the administration approached them about retiring one year earlier.
The decision to retire a year earlier was not easy for the teachers. Goldberg has taught at RBHS since 1976 and is well known for strong views about politics and political involvement.
“I have mixed feelings,” said Goldberg whose teaching has focused on government and urban studies as well as American history. “I have very mixed feelings. I still love teaching. I still love the kids.”
But Goldberg said the overwhelming defeat of the tax referendum last April made her think about moving up her retirement date.
“I started thinking about it on the morning of April 6,” said Goldberg, referring to the day after the election. “It wasn’t the defeat. We’ve had referendums defeated before. I think it was the extent of the defeat. We took a shellacking.”
She said that budget cuts at RBHS have made teaching more difficult.
“The lack of community support makes it tougher and tougher,” Goldberg said. “Class sizes are ridiculously large, and whoever said that class size doesn’t matter has never been a teacher.”
McOlgan, who has been the school’s band director since 1994, also said it will be tough to leave.
“The decision to retire was one of the toughest and most surreal of my life, as we are truly a band family,” McOlgan said in email. “I have been truly blessed to serve so many amazing student musicians over the years, many of whom have gone on to major in music and, at a minimum, continued playing in college pep and marching bands.”
Specht has taught at RBHS for 15 years. He has taught auto shop courses and currently teaches basic electricity and electronics, construction technology, computer aided design, consumer economics and exploring technology.
“I will miss working with the students and my peers,” Specht said in an email.
The early retirements will result in substantial savings, especially because the three positions will probably not be replaced, at least not by full-time teachers. RBHS has another band teacher, James Baum.
“These are employees who have already submitted their retirement letters,” said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis. “They’re positions that we would look not to fill or only fill a portion of next year, so it helps with … reductions we need to complete with next year’s budget.”
Skinkis said that, as much as possible, he would look to current teachers to eat up the class sections the retiring teachers teach. This would result in larger class sizes at RBHS and perhaps fewer class offerings.
This year Goldberg is earning $122,150. McOlgan’s base salary is $126,999, while Specht is making $102,745. The three teachers were due 6-percent raises in base salary next year under retirement provisions in the current teachers’ contract.
Teachers contribute 9.4 percent of their base pay to the Illinois Teachers Retirement System.
Goldberg said that anyone who doubts that teachers earn their pay should step into her shoes.
“I challenge anyone to spend one day in my classroom and then say I don’t earn my salary,” Goldberg said. “I don’t think the average person who voted against the referendum really understood what was at stake.”
Goldberg said another factor that influenced her decision was the possibility that the state legislature might change the rules of the Teachers Retirement System this year.
There is a bill sponsored by Republican House Minority Leader Tom Cross, (R-Oswego) that would make the retirement system a three-tier system. Its prospects are uncertain, but since Goldberg already has the maximum years of credit in the system, she figured why take the chance of a change affecting her.