Bill could force local school systems in bind

Published 9:28 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It may have been unintentional, but legislators backed teachers and school systems into a corner during their spring regular session when they passed a bill that encourages teachers and other public employees to retire early to avoid paying extra for health benefits.

State employees have until Dec. 1 to retire to avoid paying the extra fees — which is not a big deal for state agency employees but which could disrupt the school year for systems across the state if teachers who are eligible retire en masse.

Escambia County Schools alone have about 50 teachers and support personnel who would be eligible to retire, although not all will do so. School systems throughout Alabama will face similar problems.

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Even Escambia County Superintendent Billy Hines — who had already planned to retire at the end of the school year — will leave by the end of 2011.

The Legislature could correct the problem during a likely special session in November, but that may be too late.

Hines pointed out that if teachers express a desire to retire in December to avoid the extra fees, the school system will need to act quickly to replace them.

But if the Legislature makes changes in mid-November, those teaching positions may have already been filled — and what if the retiring teachers want to change their minds?

We hope that lawmakers can come up with a solution quickly that will benefit teachers and school systems — and we hope they will be more careful about the calendar when such issues arise in the future.