Monday, April 26, 2010

Ontario schools crack down on retirees who ‘double-dip’ with supply jobs

Here is the latest results of the Globe and Mail's investigation into retired teachers 'double-dipping', thereby depriving new teachers of work and costing the school boards, i.e., the taxpayer, needless extra millions of dollars:

Globe investigation revealed having pensioners return to teach has cost the education system millions of dollars

Caroline Alphonso and Kate Hammer

From Monday's Globe and Mail Published on Sunday, Apr. 25, 2010 9:02PM EDT Last updated on Monday, Apr. 26, 2010 3:43AM EDT

While the Ontario government works to address the disproportionate amount of supply work that goes to retired teachers, some school boards are taking the matter into their own hands.

After realizing it was losing millions of dollars by replacing teachers in the $60,000 pay-range with retired teachers who earned more than $80,000, the Windsor-Essex Catholic district school board has stopped adding retirees to its supply list.

“You can spin it any way you want to, but it's wrong – allowing retirees to double-dip is wrong,” said Paul Picard, superintendent of human resources for the board.

The government last week vowed to crack down on the rules around pensioners returning to supply-teach after a Globe and Mail investigation revealed that a system rife with loopholes is costing Ontario taxpayers millions of dollars. A 20-year-old policy meant to deal with teacher shortage that has since evaporated allows retirees to teach as much as half the school year, or 95 days, in the first three post-retirement working years and 20 days in following years.

Mr. Picard said that he was always under the impression that the loosened work limits were temporary, and that the rule would return to the 20-day maximum that was in place before 1990. That never happened, and retirees take a big slice of the supply-work pie in some school districts.

In British Columbia , a province that, like Ontario, has grappled with tensions around retirees taking supply-teaching jobs from new teachers, one superintendent said retired teachers should only return to the classroom when there’s no one else with the expertise to do the work.

Keven Elder, superintendent of the school district in Saanich, B.C., said his schools only hire retired teachers to cover subject areas where there’s a shortage, and they regularly monitor the amount of work retirees receive.

“I would advise that the reasons for re-engagement of a retired teacher be clear and limited,” Mr. Elder said. “To me it isn’t about limiting the number of days, it’s about limiting the conditions upon which that person is reemployed as a teacher, and then adhering to those requirements.”

Sources say that one of the options being discussed in Ontario involves permitting retirees to work 50 days in the first three years, and 20 days indefinitely. The government and the teachers’ federation have not indicated whether changes are coming to the self-policing system and loopholes that allow teachers to work beyond any allotted days without their pensions being affected.

The Saanich school district isn’t alone in giving preference to working teachers over retirees on its supply list. Some school divisions in Saskatchewan will only hire retirees if no other substitutes are available. And in Prince Edward Island, retirees who take on long-term supply-teaching contracts have their pension payments stopped during the time of their employment.

The concerns raised in Ontario over retirees padding their pensions and pushing other supply teachers out of the classroom have also been voiced in B.C. A task force formed by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation last year found the concerns were misplaced and that denying retirees work was ageist. The heart of any struggles supply teachers face getting work, the task force concluded, was that some districts placed too many of them on supply lists.

At his board, Mr. Elder said that retirees are generally denied a chance to teach if working teachers have similar qualifications. Teachers call in their own replacements, but if the district discovers that a retiree is getting much of the work, teachers are asked to look at other candidates.

“If there are a large number of people out there with your qualifications ready to fill in as you retire, you should expect that when you retire, you won’t be working any more. To me that’s just what a dynamic work force is all about,” Mr. Elder said.

A nine-month Globe and Mail investigation found supply assignments in Ontario were not divvied up evenly among the work force. Through multiple access-to-information requests and appeals to 10 of Ontario's largest boards, The Globe revealed last week that retirees worked just as many days in daily supply positions as newly certified teachers, all while picking up their government-subsidized pension cheques averaging $40,000 a year. The biggest school boards alone spent $108.3-million in 2008-09 on hiring retired teachers.

Although both groups earn the same in daily supply roles, retirees earned double the new teachers' rate for long-term assignments. The 10 boards would have saved $16.7-million in the past academic year had they placed new teachers in the classroom.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Plight of Young Teachers Today

In Ontario, the various faculties of education are continuing to churn out 7500 new teachers per year, despite the fact that there are very few jobs available. This, along with the selfish practice of retired teachers taking supply and long-term contracts, means lean times for young teachers. Below is another article from the Globe and Mail series dealing with the scourge of retired teachers who won't give up the classroom.

Few openings for young teachers

7,500 more new teachers produced each year than there are retirements, official says

Caroline Alphonso and Kate Hammer

From Monday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Apr. 19, 2010 4:35AM EDT Last updated on Monday, Apr. 19, 2010 4:36AM EDT

In his search for work, Sid Nurcombe has been forced to cast a wide net – he is contemplating a move to South Korea.

The 27-year-old teachers’ college graduate has been struggling for a year to win one of the highly coveted spots on a school boards’ supply list. Openings are few and far between, and despite applying to two different boards near his parents’ home in Shelburne, Ont., he remains unemployed. While younger teachers on the supply lists aspire to move on to full-time positions, retirees can linger there for years.

“For me, it’s a huge impediment to getting in the system,” said Mr. Nurcombe, who added that he has a “significant” debt and still lives with his parents.

Young graduates need experience to land a full-time job, but supply-teaching opportunities often go to retirees padding their pensions with contribution-free income. Part of the modest income of the young teachers that do make it onto the supply list goes toward a pension plan that’s facing an imbalance: For each beneficiary, there are only 1.5 paying members, and that ratio is expected to decline to 1.2 within the next decade.

“It’s a real morale buster,” said Laura Drexler, a 37-year-old supply teacher who lives in a one-bedroom student apartment in Waterloo, Ont. Despite the broad expertise of three university degrees and her willingness to drive between three school boards to find work, Ms. Drexler earns a quarter of what she could earn full-time.

“There aren’t the jobs out there. There really aren’t,” she said.

Frank McIntyre, manager of human resources at the Ontario College of Teachers, said a number of changes designed to help alleviate a teacher shortage in the early 1990s, have been left unchecked for too long. “Now we’re producing about 7,500 more new teachers than there are retirements every year,” he said. “Nobody has put the brakes on.”

And there’s more at risk than just the livelihoods of aspiring teachers. Annie Kidder, a spokeswoman for the parent group People for Education, said there needs to be a balance between experience and fresh energy in the classroom.

“New teachers bring new ideas, perhaps more energy,” Ms. Kidder said. “They may not be quite so worn.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Problems of Retired Teachers Continuing to Teach

I have written in the past about my heartfelt opposition to teaching after retirement, mainly because it deprives young people of much-needed opportunities to get started in their careers. This past week the Globe and Mail has had a series of articles addressing this issue, the first of which I am reproducing below:

Ontario school boards squander $16.7-million by hanging on to retirees April 16, 2010.

Caroline Alphonso and Kate Hammer
From Monday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Apr. 19, 2010 4:00AM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Apr. 21, 2010 11:31AM EDT

Ontario’s largest cash-strapped school boards squandered $16.7-million in the last academic year by enabling retirees to pad their pensions with supply-teaching work rather than hiring new teachers, a Globe and Mail investigation has found.

Retired teachers working in 10 school boards, representing half the student population, collected $108.3-million in the 2008-09 school year from taxpayers on top of their government-subsidized pensions, taking advantage of a system rife with loopholes that leaves new teachers scrambling for crumbs.

The investigation revealed widespread overspending, with boards favouring retirees over new teachers for supply assignments at a higher pay scale that, in some cases, doubled the cost to the taxpayer. One retiree working in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board worked a total of 106 days in 2008-09, earning an estimated $47,000 on top of what is already one of the most generous pensions in the country.

Other provinces, such as Prince Edward Island, have reined in such largesse by stopping pension payments when a teacher takes a long-term supply assignment. But in Ontario, even as Premier Dalton McGuinty has been lambasting postsecondary institutions for loose spending, the policing system to make sure retirees aren’t milking the education budget relies on an honour system.

The issue has angered new teachers who can’t get work, and sparked ongoing discussions between the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and the government – yet nothing has changed. Even the architect of the original policy that allowed retired teachers to work more supply days while collecting their pensions recognizes the time for it has come and gone.

Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky acknowledged the current policy poses challenges, particularly for new teachers, but added that retirees bring much-needed expertise to the job. She said parents have expressed concern that an inexperienced supply teacher doesn’t have the necessary skills to lead a classroom.

“I’m not going to debate your numbers other than to say sometimes behind the numbers there are very particular situations and circumstances that might require a board to consider engaging someone who is retired,” she said. “I think that both the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and the province are aware that there are areas where we have challenges ... And we are working with the teachers’ federation to see how we can address those going forward.”

But those longing for change are tired of waiting while school boards overspend by millions of dollars each year.

“The system has been abused by some retirees,” said Malcolm Buchanan, a retired teacher in Hamilton and former general-secretary of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, who has been petitioning the province to change the rules. “A number of people are at fault here. School boards are at fault for hiring retirees in the first place. The second fault is they don’t monitor the number of days retirees work ... And [at fault are] individual members who take advantage of the rules.”

The current system was designed two decades ago to address a teacher shortage. Prior to 1990, retired teachers were allowed to teach a maximum of 20 days a year before their pensions were affected. A change allowed for 95 days in the first three working years after retirement, and 20 days indefinitely thereafter. The shortage of the 1990s, however, has long evaporated – for every job, there are about two newly certified teachers graduating each year.

Chris Ward, the province's former minister of education who introduced the bill that led to that change, believes the policy is no longer needed and should be abandoned.
“[With] the current environment in Ontario, I would have to say that it makes little sense to me that retired teachers would be able to spend as many as 95 days in the classroom,” said Mr. Ward, who served as minister in the David Peterson government. “Frankly that’s just keeping young teachers out of the system and we need more young teachers coming in.”

The Globe’s nine-month investigation, which included multiple access-to-information requests, has for the first time determined the practice’s cost to taxpayers. The Toronto District School Board, for example, doled out almost twice as many supply assignments to retirees than to new teachers in 2008-09. These veterans earned double the new teachers’ rate for long-term assignments without paying into the pension plan. (Both groups earn the same for daily supply work, the bulk of which goes to retirees).

Had it hired new teachers for those jobs instead, the TDSB could have saved $7.6-million dollars. The Peel District School Board could have banked $3.4-million and both York Region boards could have set aside more than $1.4-million each, the data reveal. The total savings amounted to more than $16.7-million for 10 of Ontario’s 72 boards. Retirees in long-term contracts, to fill in for a teacher who is, for example, ill or on maternity leave, earn, on average, $400 a day, because pay grids negotiated between boards and the unions take into account a teachers expertise and years of experience.

According to the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, retired teachers in the province make on average $40,000 a year, and generally bow out of the 9-to-5 grind by age 57. Retirees also don’t see pension deductions from their paycheques – a further drain on the pension plan into which taxpayers make half the contributions.

The onus is on teachers to declare when they have crossed the yearly limit of days worked, and their pension cheques should be stopped. The OTPP said that there were 629 pension suspensions last year, and while the majority were self-declared, it declined to divulge how it tracked down the others.

“Self-reporting was adopted … because it was considered to be the same concept as income tax , which sees individuals being responsible for filing their own returns,” said spokeswoman Deborah Allan. She added that procedures are regularly reviewed.
Ron Crocco, principal at Jean Vanier Catholic High School in Richmond Hill, Ont., said school administrators often seek out retired teachers for their familiarity and experience. “I’m torn in some ways because I want to give the new teachers some work, and yet, when I have a person who is going to be off, I want to make sure that I have someone who can teach the classes,” Mr. Crocco said.

In the minds of many retirees, the perks are warranted.

“If you couldn’t supply teach, most of us wouldn’t retire because you just can’t afford to go cold. It’s a huge drop in pay,” said retired teacher Corrine Donnelly, who is in her sixth year of substitute teaching in Bradford, after working full-time for 32 years. “You’re assuming that we can all afford never to work again,” she said.

She said she was passionate about teaching, and justified her decision to keep working postretirement. “I did retire early from my own job. I did free up a permanent job for somebody.”