RCAPS board votes down increased retirement incentive

REED CITY — Consideration and discussion of a new retirement incentive proposal offered by Reed City Area Public Schools Superintendent Tim Webster was shot down by the Board of Education during a regular meeting on Monday.

The board discussed Webster’s proposal to offer a $25,000 retirement incentive to a minimum of three teachers with over 15 years of service in RCAPS, to be paid out over the course of two years. While the board had previously settled on a $10,000 incentive, reducing the buyout from its original proposed amount, they decided to discuss the issue one more time.

The incentive would offer teachers a monetary sum to retire, avoiding layoffs and unemployment fees. The suggestion was a result of RCAPS’ need to reduce its staff to fit its budget. Teachers were more likely to accept the $25,000, said Webster, thereby saving long-term costs to the district.

Webster’s proposal outlined the benefits of the increased incentive, including:

  • Increases in fund equity;
  • No decline in staff morale;
  • No significant negative effect in community relations;
  • Less of a risk to go to court due to layoff dissatisfaction; and
  • Adherence to legal advice that an incentive holds up in court cases.

Webster also included a sample estimate of how much the school would save by offering the incentive to three teachers rather than laying them off. More than $100,000 dollars of savings separated the two options overall.

Board president Daniel Boyer responded to Webster’s proposal by referring to PA 102, a law which protects teachers from being laid off unfairly and which dictates that the board should handle staff reductions, saying that it offers protection and a reiteration of the board’s duty to determine the effectiveness of teachers.

“The philosophy of the buyout is flawed, in my opinion, even if the numbers are right,” he said. “The philosophy is to pay off senior staff to leave. This allows the district to avoid the difficult work of identifying who and what the least effective educators and programs are. Unfortunately, I believe that this kind of difficult work is the kind of work the board is instructed by PA 102 to do. It seems it is our responsibility to direct administration to do what is best for students.”

Boyer also stated the following in direct response to Webster’s proposal:

  • A reduction in force will increase equity either way;
  • Staff morale should stay high since RCAPS pays its employees better than all other ISD schools;
  • Community relations will remain positive as citizens trust the board members to do the right thing;
  • There is always a risk, but administrators know the staff well and could administer the layoffs fairly; and
  • PA 102 offers protection in court cases to the board’s decisions regarding fair layoffs.

Webster countered that the last time RCAPS made significant cuts to staff, some three years ago, PA 102 was in effect but still ended up with RCAPS money being used toward court.

“We have dismissed teachers in this district in a way that did end up in court,” he said. “In a way that was viewed as being done fairly. We’ve spent over $60,000 in court cases already to try and figure out the last layoff we did.”

Boyer also cited that the schools’ low test scores were indicative of the poor quality of some teachers, whose absence would likely benefit the school. Webster responded that the low test scores were a result of “neglected curriculum,” and that he would bet his job that once that situation was corrected, the scores would improve.

Other board members had mixed reactions, torn between the incentive, which would work well with the financial situation of the school, and the layoffs, which would allegedly eliminate ineffective teachers in a fair way.

“Financially, (the incentive) is good for the school district,” said trustee Jim Dawson. “But we’re not all about financing. We’re first and foremost about education. Educationally we’ve got to consider what the best thing is for our students. We don’t want to lose a year educating any of our students.”

“I’ve got mixed emotions both ways,” said trustee Ross Momany. “We need to look at our evaluation process — whether or not we’ve actually told our teachers what our expectations of them are right now. If we have, whatever we do here should be fine. If we haven’t, I would feel bad about not everyone knowing what they’re supposed to do.”

“I think we need to take action and do something now, before we lose any more money,” said board secretary Kathy Yost. “I think the figures given to us show us that there is quite a large savings (with the incentive).”

Ultimately, the board’s vote reflected the mixed emotions, with the proposal being voted down, 4-3.

RCAPS teachers will still be offered the $10,000 incentive if they retire, and have until April 1 to apply.