Howard County schools will start the new year pitching an early retirement plan for teachers, administrators and other employees that officials say could bring as many as 600 applicants and save $9 million.
The public school system will offer the buyout option to employees with at least 15 years' experience. The package will be offered to administrators, secretaries, teachers, food service workers and maintenance employees, paying them up to 100 percent of one year's salary in installments over a five-year stretch.
Educators Preferred Corp., a consulting firm specializing in severance programs and hired by the school system, estimates some 594 employees — about seven percent of Howard's school staff — might take advantage of the offer.
That's based on hundreds of similar plans the firm has implemented in school systems across the country, according to company vice president Dan Sheehy. If those projections hold up, the school district would save about $9.2 million over the next eight years, according to Beverly Davis, the system's director of budget and finance.
The proposal to pursue the early retirement packages was approved unanimously by the school board in November.
More than three-quarters of those who might participate are members of the Howard County Education Association, the union representing teachers, secretaries and food service personnel.
Union President Paul Lemle said he was disappointed the union and other employee groups were not approached by the school system or board before the plan was approved.
"The board's refusal to discuss the offer with any of its employee groups raises several serious red flags," Lemle said in a statement. "We don't know how many of our best teachers will leave the school system, whether any potential salary savings are worth the loss of these experienced people and we don't have any insight into plans to replace them."
Still, he said, the union believes the buyouts could benefit some employees, depending on their long-term financial and personal needs.
Members of the school board offered no specifics why they are implementing the buyouts now.
The decision came prior to the December announcement by newly elected County Executive Allan Kittleman that the county is facing a $14 million shortfall for the fiscal year.
School employees eligible for the program were notified in December and will start meeting in January with staff from Educators Preferred. Sheehy told board members the company expects to know by early March how many employees have accepted the offer.
School officials said the system will reserve the right to keep certain employees who opt into the program for one year beyond the expected exit date of June 30 based on "the educational and operational needs of the school system."
The school system last offered an early retirement incentive to employees 20 years ago, Davis said.