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21 teachers get pink slip

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By Kellie Parkin

Twenty-one veteran teachers across Levy County received letters last week notifying them that their annual contracts would not be renewed for the upcoming 2009-2010 school year.

The 21 educators, each with at least 30 years of teaching experience, were either part of the extended DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Plan) program or retired and then rehired back on annual contract.

“Those teachers were paid at the top of the pay scale based upon their years of experience,” said Candace Dean, Director of Personnel for Levy County School District.

“Currently our Salary Schedule states: ‘All creditable teaching experience in Florida public schools shall be credited on the salary schedule,’” Dean continued. “Due to the budget crisis we are facing not only in Florida but in the nation, this is something we are unable to continue.”

“The state is trying to eliminate what has been termed double-dipping,” said Superintendent Robert Hastings, referring to retired government workers who then return to their jobs, drawing both pensions as well as paychecks that reflect years of experience.

“We’re trying to negotiate that when a teacher retires, they come back at beginning teachers salary of $32,400 plus retirement pay of about $30,000,” he said. “We need the union to ratify contract language for this to be done.”

Hastings said that if an agreement can be reached with the union, the district would benefit. “Teachers coming back at base salary would save the county about $420,000 (a year),” he said. “Which would put 12-15 teachers back in the classroom.”

“I don’t have any problem with hiring the good (teachers) back, but we have to have some concessions on contract language before we have that happen,” he said.

Veteran teachers, however, stand to lose a substantial amount of pay under Hastings proposal. Teachers with 30-40 years of experience would be financially recompensed like first-year teachers.

No additional job cuts are in the immediate future, Hastings said. “I need some firmer numbers from Tallahassee before I start making more decisions,” he said.

Levy Educators Association President Cindy Roach said the district’s decision not to renew the teachers’ contracts was made too early given that the legislative session does not close until May 1. “This is extremely premature,” she said. “We don’t even know what our budget is.”

The current Levy County teacher contract calls for the district to provide notices on renewal status to annual employees by May 7.