Split school board approves 'retire rehire' of administrators

August 13, 2011

Hood River County School District and its board have dealt with two challenging personnel decisions this week, including the retirement and subsequent rehiring of three veteran administrators.

The three administrators - Terri Vann, director of instruction and special programs, Bob Dais, director of human resources, and Ed Drew, Westside Elementary Principal - had submitted letters of resignation with the board, with requests to continue working through the 2011-12 school year.

This retire/rehire practice is allowed by state law but doesn't sit well with some people, because it allows the retiree to collect both a retirement check and a paycheck for the same time period - in this case, the whole school year.

Such requests must be approved by the school board - and these were - but not before each board member had had a chance to weigh in.

During that vote, the retirements were approved, but Bob Danko and Mark Johnson both cast no votes.

Other board members, including Kateri Osbourn Lohr and James Sims, felt that since the practice is allowed by the state it really was not the board's place to disallow it. Jan Veldhuisen Virk voted yes, but found the retire/rehire practice troubling.

Superintendent Charlie Beck said, "I was disappointed with the split vote.

"I got two legal opinions, which I shared, and followed those legal opinions."

"We followed the board policy which indicated open the positions internally, and those persons (Vann, Drew, and Dais) were the only ones who applied.

(In 2011-12, Vann is scheduled to earn net salaries of $102,645; Dais $106,689 and Drew $96,095.)

Beck acknowledged that under district policy, the jobs are advertised only internally.

"It is an important question (of expanding the notice) but it is not part of the policy," he said.

"I absolutely do believe the policy needs to be changed," Beck said.

"We have a policy and procedure that is inadequate to do what is needed. I found it very difficult to follow the policy and procedure in place, and that is what I told the board."

Beck and Dais also commented on the question that arose this week over a $6,760 annual salary increase ($3.25 per hour) being paid to a personnel specialist who works in the District Office.

The employee notified the District this spring that she was misclassified based on the pay scale for Confidential employees, who are non-union, and asked for the increase, according to Beck, adding that the district negotiated with the employee not to pay her an increase retroactively.

"We have to follow the directive, and that is, when faced with evidence that someone is inappropriately placed categorized in our classified group, then it is our duty to do an analysis of that and see if that is accurate," Beck said. "We did that and found that she was inappropriately placed on the salary schedule.

"We have a legal obligation to go back and remedy at the point that the issue happened," Beck said.

Dais noted that the district "is paying someone what they have a right to earn," and the specialist's duties have actually grown as part of budget cutbacks at District Office.

"This person is not being paid more than payroll or accounts payable specialists in our office," Dais said.

Beck acknowledged that. "This is absolutely a difficult time to do it but rather than say 'this is not the right time,' we managed to get an agreement that we are not paying back salaries," he said.

"Our job is to look out for the legal liability of this district," Beck said, noting that district policy as well as the Bureau of Labor and Industries rules dictate that the employee's salary had to be adjusted once it was determined that it was, as Beck put it, "inappropriately classified."

On the administrators' rehire issue, Danko, who represents the Upper Valley, read a statement expressing his disapproval of the retire/rehire practice, often called "double-dipping," and asked that the board vote on it separately from the other items on the consent agenda. (See page A4 for an "Another Voice" opinion piece by Danko..)

"The law that allows this was passed in 2001," Mark Johnson said. "The intent of the law was to provide an easier time for some rural school districts - such as Burns - to attract quality personnel; retired teachers living in the area could be rehired to teach. We don't have the same need here."

Since so much time is spent discussing the retire/rehire issue each time it comes up, the board decided to work with the district's general legal counsel, attorney Jeff Baker, to come up with a policy that all board members can agree with.

The current policy states, in part, that "The district, at its discretion, may decide to extend employment opportunities to retired employees when it is in the best interests of the district and its students. The Superintendent will develop administrative regulations as may be necessary for district employees who retire, begin receiving benefits from the Public Employees Retirement System, and request continued district employment."

The board decided to ask Baker to attend its next meeting, Aug. 24, to work with at least a subcommittee of board members to work on a new, more explicit policy.

All of the board members expressed appreciation for the long careers and extensive contributions of Dais, Vann and Drew, and Johnson and Danko stressed that their no votes were in no way meant to reflect on the retiring administrators personally.

Liz Whitmore will continue as chairman of the Hood River County School District Board of Directors and James Sims will be the new vice chair for the 2011-12 school year, it was decided during the board's organizational meeting Wednesday evening.

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