South Summit will lose experienced teachers to buyouts
With the South Summit School District in a budget crunch, officials must cut personnel costs and several experienced teachers will retire this summer, taking advantage of buyouts offered by the district.
The district in Kamas offered employees one-time payments equal to about 40 percent of their salaries. Four teachers and two classified employees accepted the buyouts.
"Then we would pay five years of insurance, or as many years as it takes them to get to (age) 65, when Medicare would kick in," South Summit School District Superintendent Barry Walker said about the offer. "For an employee who is on a family (insurance) policy, and will take the full five years, that is another $66,000."
Additionally, teachers who accepted buyouts will each receive a roughly $17,000 payment from the district’s retirement incentive program, Walker said.
"We would pay all three of those in a one lump-sum payment," he said. "We offered it to any teacher in the district who had 25 years in the state retirement system and also had taught 11 years in the district."
About 16 teachers and classified employees were eligible.
"Once we pay them, it’s over with. They are out of the district and we save that salary," Walker said.
The district saves lots of money when an experienced teacher retires. But buyouts have also caused schools to lose their most talented staff.
"That was a concern of the district, that we were losing some of the more experienced teachers," South Summit School District Business Administrator Kip Bigelow said.
Two teachers in South Summit High School’s career and technical education program accepted buyouts.
"There is at least one of those positions that will need to be replaced," Bigelow said in a telephone interview Friday.
The two other teachers who received buyouts work at the middle school and elementary school in Kamas. A custodian and secretary also accepted buyouts that were offered to some classified workers.
Matt Leavitt, a member of the South Summit Board of Education, said he wished more teachers had taken advantage of the incentives to retire early.
"I thought it was a pretty attractive offer that we put out there, apparently not attractive enough," Leavitt said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "It would be a little easier for us to continue to do certain things if more people had taken it."
Districts gamble when they offer payments for teachers to retire early, he said.
"You roll the dice and you see what happens You could lose some people who are your best employees," Leavitt added. "As we looked down through the list of teachers who were qualified for the buyout program we presented, there were some teachers on there who you hear very positive comments about throughout the community. So you kind of hold your breath that those are the ones that don’t accept it."
Meanwhile, the retirement incentives were only a short-term remedy as the district works to fill next year’s roughly $650,000 budget gap. The Legislature allowed school districts, for the next two years, to balance their budgets by dipping into their capital reserves to help fund looming shortfalls.
"Normally, they don’t let you use any of that capital-side money for salaries and those kinds of things," Walker said, about funds typically earmarked for building projects. "Every district in the state was allowed that option."
But one classified employee in the South Summit School District could be laid off next year as board members balance the budget.
"That was a contract that will not be renewed. It’s not based on anything other than we are trying to balance the budget," Bigelow stressed.
Six full-time classified employees will also become part-time workers next year.
"That saved us a considerable amount of money," Bigelow explained. One teacher in Kamas has accepted a position in another school district.
Bigelow said funding reductions from the state combined with higher insurance costs and new requirements to contribute more money to state retirement accounts are fueling the budget woes.
"There was a loss in revenue from the state Office of Education," Bigelow said. "We also had an increase in the cost of our health insurance and, through the legislative process, there was a (2 percent) increase in the contribution that we have to donate for each employee into the state retirement system."
A new charter school in the Park City area could also siphon money away from the South Summit School District, Bigelow said.
Charter school could decrease funding
Charter schools are public schools using state funding earmarked for schools where their students would have attended. It is unclear how many kids in the Kamas area will attend the Pinebrook charter school when it opens this fall.
"If we have any students who elect to go to that charter school then we lose what is called the weighted pupil unit. That money would no longer come into the district," Bigelow said.
About 16 students in the Kamas area have expressed interest in attending the charter school, he said.
"[The charter school] might take somewhere between 14 and 18 kids," Leavitt said. "That could almost equate to a teacher’s salary."
The public will have an opportunity to speak out about next year’s spending plan at a budget hearing in June. The budget for the district this year is about $16 million.
School board members in South Summit are not expected to propose any tax increases.
"We don’t expect to raise property taxes now or next year," Leavitt said.
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