City teachers offered buyouts
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The Pittsburgh Public Schools board approved Tuesday night a buyout offer for teachers, but triple-digit layoffs are still likely to occur effective next school year.
An analysis by the independent consulting firm Educators Preferred Corp. in Missouri estimated that about 25 of 1,200 eligible teachers will likely take the buyout, said Jody Spolar, chief human resources officer for Pittsburgh Public Schools.
That puts just a small dent in the estimated 398 positions the district must cut under its 2012 budget.
The buyouts come at a time when the district is trying to reduce a growing operating deficit by reducing staff, closing some schools and adjusting some feeder patterns.
Both Ms. Spolar and a representative for the teachers union said they feel any measure that can cut the number of forced furloughs is better than none.
"If we can get 10, 20 or 30 people who ... were willing to go, that saves a furlough," Ms. Spolar said.
Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said, "We wish it was a richer plan to make it more attractive, but we're happy to have a plan that would be helpful to some people who would like to try other things."
Under the plan, full-time teachers who make at least $80,000 a year as of June 30, 2012, and who are not eligible for retirement could receive $55,000 over an eight-year period and some severance pay. They would not be eligible for continued health coverage but could qualify for COBRA health benefits through the government.
Both Ms. Spolar and Ms. Esposito-Visgitis said the lack of health care benefits will make the plan appealing to only a small group of teachers, such as those who might be able to get health insurance through a spouse.
The exact timeline for the buyouts has not yet been scheduled. The district plans to send information about the buyouts to all eligible teachers sometime next month. Shortly after, they will be able to declare their intentions to take a buy-out.
By mid-March, the district hopes to know how many teachers plan to take buyouts and how many plan to retire, allowing administrators to determine how many people will be furloughed, Ms. Spolar said. If the numbers stay consistent with those of other years, an estimated 100 teachers will retire, she said. That, paired with the estimated 25 teachers taking buyouts, would leave 273 positions to be eliminated.
"We're very concerned about the number of furloughs," Ms. Esposito-Visgitis said. "It's something that keeps me up at night."
Board members raised similar concerns at their meeting Tuesday night. New member Regina Holley said, "I don't want to lose the senior leaders in our district. That to me seems like the group that you really want to keep."
Board member Thomas Sumpter said he worried that the teachers who qualified for buyouts were "somewhat seasoned individuals" whose experience benefits the district.
Mr. Sumpter and Ms. Holley voted against the buyout measure Tuesday night. Board members Mark Brentley and Floyd McCrea abstained.
First Published December 21, 2011 12:00 am