Haines School (Emily Files)

Haines School (Emily Files)

The Haines School District is putting an incentive in place for long-time teachers to retire this year. It’s one strategy to save money as the school faces a tight budget for the coming year.

As the district puts next year’s budget together, the administration is trying to decide where to make cuts to help offset what’s anticipated to be an about $360,000 shortfall. They’re also looking beyond the coming school year, at long-term cost saving measures.

The school board took action on one effort this week. They voted in favor of a resignation incentive option that would give certain teachers some extra money to retire at the end of this school year.

It applies to teachers who have been in the district for 15 years or more and are on at least step 15 on the pay scale. That means their salary ranges between around $65,000 and $78,000.  Here’s school board president Anne Marie Palmieri.

“These are teachers that are on the higher end of the pay scale because they’ve been with our district longer,” said Palmieri. “Even though we do value longevity and their expertise, if we can hire teachers at a lower salary then there is a cost savings that could be realized there over time.”

She said the last time the school turned to this program, in 2011, two teachers chose to participate. This year, eight teachers are eligible.

If any of them choose to retire this year, the district will pay a lump sum of $15,000 to teachers who have been in the district between 15 and just under 21 years. Those who have more than 21 years of local experience will receive $20,000.

The school has set a cap at $75,000 total to spend on the incentive. That means not all eight eligible teachers would be able to participate.

The board weighed the ups and downs of the plan. The upside is cost savings over time. The downside is losing valuable teachers. Here’s superintendent Tony Habra.

“The major downside is the loss of experienced personnel,” said Habra. “I mean we have some people who have been here a long time doing some great things and as much as we understand the value of experience there’s also the cost.”

Palmieri said that would mean extra training for new teachers.

“We’d be hiring new staff and so then there’d be a learning curve,” said Palmieri. “Even if we hired experienced teachers there’s always a learning curve in the district and so that would be more pressure on Rene. More time for Rene to work with those people so they learn what our policies and procedures and philosophies are.”

She’s referring to Principal Rene Martin. Martin said though hiring a number of new staff members at once would be challenging, it’s something the school has dealt with before. Ten new staff members were hired in 2015. That included six new teachers.

“We’ve done it. Even if we have the one or two extra days at the beginning of the new teacher contract for some on-boarding, that still is such a cost savings,” said Martin. “It’s difficult but I think we’ve been really working on our mentorship within the building. I think that if we had to reach out to our community for extra mentorship I feel like our community is behind us.”

And, she said she doesn’t think all eight eligible teachers will want to retire this year.

Immediate cost savings related to the program would likely be nominal, since there’s the upfront cost of the incentive payments. The goal is to save money over time.

The Skagway School implemented a similar program this school year. There, the option is available to teachers who have been employed with the Skagway School District for at least 10 consecutive years, on at least step 10 of the pay scale. Teachers who choose to participate will receive $18,000.

Superintendent Josh Coughran says there was interest in the program, but he wouldn’t specify how many teachers have chosen to participate.

Haines school administration is also looking at cutting staff positions to save money. The superintendent announced this week that a music teacher position is on the chopping block, although he says the music program itself will not be diminished.