Proposal would hinder educators

Published 9:25 am Monday, March 7, 2011

A proposal to require teachers and other public employees to pay more for health insurance and retirement would hurt education personnel and recruitment of new teachers to the state, local educators said.

Escambia County Schools Superintendent William Hines said the proposal by Bentley isn’t necessarily new, and changes could take some time to be put into place.

“We have had this kind of proposal presented by previous officials,” Hines said. “It could take months before we see any final decision made on the subject.”

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Hines said Bentley’s proposal could be changed before any action is taken that would effect education employees’ bottom line.

“Nothing is set in stone right now,” Hines said. We’ll just have to wait and see how things come out. I know that in a three-day period I have seen two different proposals presented on ‘what ifs’ and they were conflicting proposals. It’s hard to say where all of this will end.”

In the proposal to increase contributions to benefits by teachers, Bentley is suggesting an increase of an additional 1 to 5 percent be added to the amounts teachers and support personnel already contribute.

“Right now all of our personnel contribute 5 percent of their salary to the retirement system,” Hines said. “This proposal would see each employee contributing anywhere from 6 to 10 percent of their salary to retire. That’s not something they can choose to do. It is mandated that all employees contribute to retirement.”

Hines said additionally, teachers will be expected to pay an increase of 1 to 5 percent for their cost of health insurance coverage.

“Not all of our employees participate in the health insurance program,” Hines said. “But, for those that do, they could pay more if this proposal goes through.”

Some educators believe the increase in cost for benefits for teachers may soon be a deterrent for teachers just coming into the field. Carl Raley, an administrator at W.S. Neal High School, said the benefits currently enjoyed by teachers have been a benefit in Alabama.

“For years, the benefits we have in Alabama have drawn good teachers to teach at our schools,” Raley said. “If those things change, good teachers will be seeking out better benefits or pay in other areas. This could be a problem.”

Patty Frazier, principal at W.S. Neal said the current teacher shortage could increase if the proposed changes are put into effect.

“We already have a shortage of good math and science teachers in this state,” Frazier said. “If those who could teach math and science see what the bottom line is in salary and benefits, they would likely choose a different career path than education. That will only make our current situation worse.”

Raley said he hoped those who would make the final decision on the proposal would take one main idea into consideration before casting their final vote.

“The last thing they need to ask is ‘What’s best for the children?’” Raley said. “We are responsible for America’s most valuable asset.”