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Bemidji School Board: Retirement incentive OK'd

The Bemidji School District, faced with anticipated budget shortfalls for the 2009-10 school year, will offer a retirement incentive to teachers to try to reduce teacher layoffs.

At a special meeting Monday night, the Bemidji School Board voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to offer a $10,000 retirement incentive to eligible teachers.

The retirement incentive would be paid to a teacher's health care savings account in a single lump sum payment.

"The cost of the incentive must be equal to or less than the cost of the layoff," Director of Human Resources Jordan Hickman quoted from a memo from Superintendent Jim Hess.

State law establishes that a teacher must have at least 15 years of allowable service and upon retirement be immediately eligible for retirement benefits from the Teacher's Retirement Association to be eligible for such an incentive.

Also, eligible teachers must retire before July 15.

Teachers who want the incentive must request consideration before April 24. The district can grant or deny a request.

"The retirement incentive would partially offset the budget shortfall and effectively reduce the total number of layoffs," said Hickman, quoting the memo from Hess.

The district faces a deficit of about $2 million from overspending last year and projected overspending this year.

At a special meeting Wednesday night, Hess said the district is in this position because of the "historic underfunding" of education by the state Legislature.

To address the deficit, the board is considering $1 million in staff reductions, which is the equivalent to 18 full-time-equivalent employees, and $1.1 million in spending reductions.

Hess said Wednesday night that the board will make budget adjustments in both staffing and spending at its regular meeting April 20.