Retired Educators Under Fire For Returning To Work

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — As school districts in Minnesota have allowed retirees to return to work in recent years, some say they are getting a deal on quality professionals, while others wonder if the educators are double-dipping — by collecting both a salary and a pension.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Sunday that educators who draw both salaries and pensions have come under fire in many states. From California to New York, such employees have been accused of boosting their incomes by also taking a pension.

But experts say that in Minnesota, the number of retirees in public school jobs is very small. The vast majority earn modest incomes filling in part-time, and school districts are often desperate to put them in jobs that are hard to fill.

About 9,000 beneficiaries of Minnesota’s public retirement funds are back on the public payroll. This week, the Public Employees Retirement Association will present a report to its board on the impact that back-to-work retirees are having on the pension fund. A legislative pension committee plans to examine the issue this summer.

For some school districts, the retirees are a good solution. For example, last June, the superintendent, athletics director and high school principal in Redwood Falls all retired.

Superintendent Rick Ellingworth, who was 56 at the time, returned to work in the 1,180-student district in southwest Minnesota. He knew that with declining enrollment, budget issues and a freeze on teacher pay, his salary would remain stagnant, board member Tom Hollatz said.

But “we didn’t really want to lose him,” Hollatz said. “We have a more difficult time in rural Minnesota finding quality people.”

So in July, all three retiring administrators signed new contracts with the district. As retirees, neither they nor the district have to pay 6 percent contributions into the Teachers Retirement Association. They took salary cuts, including $5,400 a year for Ellingworth.

“That was a win-win for all of us,” Ellingworth said. The district is saving almost $85,000 a year with the new contracts.

And while Ellingworth now makes $113,900 annually, he also receives about $56,000 in pension benefits.

Retirees in the Teachers Retirement Association system can keep their jobs or get a new one with a public school. But if they make more than an earning limit of $46,000 a year, a portion of their benefits goes into a savings account they can tap only after ending public service. Ellingworth’s $56,000 annual benefit does not include the money set aside in a savings account for him.

Districts have long used retired teachers to fill substitute roles. But they began rehiring more retirees for full-time and part-time jobs four or five years ago, said Bob Lowe of the Minnesota School Board Association.

Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators said rehiring newly retired workers is good for everyone. He said educators tap the pensions they have earned, while districts save on pension contributions and can often negotiate pay cuts or freezes.

Besides, Kyte said, “the districts are only rehiring people whom they really, really value.”

“Those are the best of our people in education,” he said.

Byron Schlomach, a pension fund expert with the conservative Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, said the practice is not good for taxpayers.

“It’s sold as something that saves the taxpayers money, but the reality is taxpayers cover the whole thing,” he said. “It’s a way of robbing the taxpayer by stealth.”

The practice is double-dipping, Schlomach said, and if more public workers stop contributing to state pension funds before they quit working, it can put a strain on the funds.

Working retirees have been under scrutiny in other states, and some have greater restrictions than Minnesota. Arizona requires workers to take at least a year off before returning to work if they want to collect a pension while working. Nevada allows re-employment only if employers can show a “critical labor shortage” for the job.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Susan Milikan

    What are those “hard to fill” positions, the reporter didn’t tell us? My assumption is that there is a oversupply of teachers in Minnesota in all areas. My new graduates end up being substitutes or getting laid off when districts cut their budget.

    • Susan

      I couldn’t agree more. And these new graduates are going to be the ones to suffer the most. Not only are we struggling to pay our school loans, but the little money we have left over goes to paying social security for those working ‘retired’ educators, which means we cannot afford to save for retirement for ourselves. Due to the economic recession, we are at risk of losing social security long before we can even retire. At the rate I’m going, I’d be lucky to be able to retire before I’m six feet under.

  • bri

    All the more reason that they should go to a 401K plan. Or reduce a persons pension if they decide to continue working. Taxpayers are being double dooped while the younger teachers can’t get a job.

    • Dave

      I get sick of teachers taking advantage of others…
      One day, they’ll get theirs

  • michael

    my roommate has a masters degree in education from St. Thomas. she has been unable to get a teaching position here in minnesota for the past 3 years. even though she spends her own money to remain current on whatever educational fad is happening that year. she interviews for pretty much every applicable position within an hours drive from where we live. and they are hiring back retirees?!!! think it’s time to sadly say goodbye to her and support her in going to a state that will appreciate her considerable skills instead of the politics of education i see here. ridiculous

    • Susan

      Has she considered moving to Bush Alaska? I hear they are always looking for good teachers :) The pay isn’t half bad either. ;)

    • Steven

      The problem is the that Union dictates the pay scale based on years of service and degree. The fact that your roommate has a Masters degree is killing her chances of being hired. She has zero experience but must be paid at a higher scale than a 4 year graduate. My daughter in in College right now for a teaching degree and in her interview process with local school principles they made it clear that someone with a Masters will find it difficult to find a job with no experience.

  • Educator

    It’s usually the superintendents and administrators that double-dip.

  • nmp

    The people it hurts are the new teachers trying desperately to get their foot in the door and show what they are capable of.

    How utterly selfish of the retirees!

  • Douglas MacArthur


  • Barney

    The story didn’t tell us much, did it? Where? Why are the jobs “hard to fill?” Why aren’t newbies being hired?

  • Indigo

    Typical union bs, not protecting teachers. New teaching grads told they will be subbing for at least a year before something opens up.

  • Bill

    This seems like a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” scenario where the union gets involved because the retirees still support the union whereas a new hire may not be so supportive.

  • Kevin

    GO UNIONS!!!! Your tax dollars at work…….

    • Union Buster!!

      After reading the story, I now realize why we need to support WI’s Governor!!

  • just an Average Joe

    …”now makes $113,900 annually, he also receives about $56,000 in pension benefits”…

    Lee’s see, I can retire from my job, start collecting my pension, and then get my old job back, and get paid and still collect my pension. Wow, that’s cool. Sing me up.

    Oh wait, you say there’s a catch. I have to be a state union employee. to be eligible for this. Oh well, I tried.

    Okay all you union supporters. Tell me EXACTLY how this is fair. This man is getting paid for working at the same time he is getting paid for not working. And he is doing it on taxpayers money. I dare you to stand there and stick your tongue out and say ‘We can do it and you can’t”.

    • JKB

      Pretty damned good isnt it? Eau Claire is having this same problem. Principals retire, then return to their same position, get paid the same amount as before retiring, PLUS,receive all the bennies and their pension amount also increases. This is just one of the reasons why our Gov Walker is trying to bust up the union! School boards dont worry how much theyre paying individuals, because it isnt coming out of their pockets.

      • Vern

        Check out Walker’s benefit package when he is “retired”. I really can’t find anything on the net, but if it mimics the federal benefits that would make Walker a bit to faced. Let me repeat the if part so you don’t go crazy. It is a reasonable assumption. When the politicians start cleaning up their own pig sty of benefits, then they can clean up some of the rest. Walker is going after unions as pure politics. When he does it across the board for eveyrone, then I could have respect for him.

        • Jake

          Terrible argument. Because the Governor’s position (probably) has a luxurious, wasteful pension tied to it, we shouldn’t be outraged that Grandma living in Redwood Falls (on $1,500.00 a month in Social Security) just had her property tax jacked up to the point where she can’t keep the family house so “Rick” can be paid $190,000.00 a year. The scam is finally up. Campaign literature just has to keep showing what the dominant party in Minnesota has done to transfer middle class assets to the bulging public sector payrolls Of course Rick and these other folks squatting on the jobs new grads would love to have will keep writing big checks to the union Political Action Committees to ensure legislators keep sending new money for “smaller class sizes for our kids.”

          What a shame.

          • Patrick

            Terrible argument, Jake. First off, your math teacher clearly failed with you. $113,000 + 56,000 in BENEFITS = $169,000, not $190,000. Nice exaggeration, though. Second, “Rick” saved his district $85,000! He should be applauded! I’m guessing they could hire a new college grad with that money! Also, how is “Rick” and other administrators like him rob the hring of new college grads? I’ve NEVER heard of a 23 year old college graduate becoming Superintendent of a School District in his or her first year. Lastly, I know plenty of people who find other employment after they retire. Do you suggest a law be passed that FORCES society to sit on their butts and do nothing once they retire? It’s perfectly okay for people to go back to work once they retire. Save your complaining.. PLEASE!

    • Orville

      School district employees are not state employees.. If you have a problem with someone working for your school district after retirement contact your school board. If you have a problem with the law call your rep as the story points out it is legal . Many pensioners found they had to go back to work while on social security. Are you going to harass the kindly old gentleman at the door of WallMart that he is double dipping? The $170k the superintendent makes is below average for that very well paid job. Perhaps you want to relabel yourself as below average Joe as your complaining sound like whinning someone is getting something I cannot.

  • Victim Du Jour

    And then you see that TV ad, with the guy wearing a hard hat, saying cuts to education will hurt the “Middle Class”

  • Elmo

    I’m a DAV and retired from the military. I don’t get to collect both checks. I don’t have a Union backing me up, just my injury. But I continued to serve without pay.
    You hear of many Government jobs, somebody retires, then comes back as a contractor.

    • pretzeldude

      Buddy you better check with the VA. Someone is blowing smoke up your rear end. Better yet join the Disabled American Veterans and let them explain what benefits you have coming. There are chapters all over the country.
      Been there done that and now collecting not only $$ but medical benefits as well. I’m 100% disabled so my wife can also receive medical benefits.

      AND for you sorry ass complainers that didn’t serve keep you mouth shut or join up like a REAL MAN OR WOMAN!

  • Fair Share??

    I am a union member (not a teacher) and I agree this is total BS! If you go back to work, you should stop drawing your pension. Have they paid ANY attention to what has happened in California?? And they wonder why the Teacher’s Union in MN needs to be bailed out every so often…

  • pretzeldude

    With all of the Government entities crying poor mouth what’s the problem with rehiring people who don’t have to be trained. Then Gov. employers save on the retireent contributions. This has NO affect on the retirement system as the employee is collecting what he already earned.
    Those that complain are #1 envious #2 not qualified #3 too lazy to do the job #4 afraid to do the job.

    • Jake

      “Jealous” (I think you mean “envious.” Your highly paid teachers failed you.) would apply if it is someone achieving success in a manner unrelated to you. I believe the correct term when the coercive power of government is captured by an interest group to force everyone else to pay outrageous salaries and pension that are completely shielded from market forces would be “outraged.”

  • Mike

    Retired at 56 years old, making 56k a year! Geez, I wonder why the state is broke! Work to a minimum of 62 like everyone else, or no pension PERIOD!

  • Sarah

    Kill the pensions!!

  • Jeff

    I think teachers have actually gone lower than a Catholic Priest!! Say it aint so…

    Both professions are known for abusing children and taking advantage other others…

  • fatguyinalittlecoat

    Teachers are so over paid as it is. Don’t feel like teaching today? Let’s put in a movie and have the class write down 3 things they learned….summers off would be great. Don’t forget about the 2 weeks off during Christmas and another one in the spring. Time to cut their ridiculous benefits. For the first time in my life, I’m jealous of wisconsin.

  • dedicated teacher

    As a teacher, I have seen this first hand. I do not agree with this practice and do agree that this greatly impacts young teachers that are just coming out of college. However some of this comes down to the retirement packages that were offered to these retirees early in their careers.

    As far as teachers being over paid is concerned, I didn’t see any data in this article about teacher’s pay. I did see the pay of a superintendent, who has a Doctoral degree. If you check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, you will see that education pays. The average worker in the US with a High School diploma earns around 37,000 a year, Associate degree- 39,800, Bachelor’s degree- 53,976, Master’s degree-66,000, and Doctoral degree-80,600. My husband and I are both teachers with Master’s Degrees and neither of us earns 66,000 a year, even with the 20+ hours a week of extra work coaching my husband contributes to his school.
    We are also property owners and consumers in our community and state.
    Bottom line, we are tax payers too.

    It’s pretty easy to point fingers if you don’t know the whole story and aren’t willing to do some research. I don’t think anyone would argue with a Lawyer, Doctor or MBA making $100,000+ a year.

  • I don't get it

    Why is it so politically incorrect to call them teachers now? Does anyone else find the repeated use of educator obnoxious?



  • ??


  • WorriedDad

    In Texas, we have teachers who got to retire and collect teacher’s pension. Then they went back to work and collected a salary – and qualified for Social Security. Some of them have retired a second time, and are collecting both SS and the teacher’s pension. It’s obscene.

    As for the positions being “hard to fill”? We all know that there are new teachers everywhere looking for work. Like so many of these kinds of stories, I may not know what the whole truth is. But I know what isn’t the truth. And the story they are telling isn’t the truth.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Thursday Night Football

Listen Live