March 11, 2012

More than 1,200 public workers double dipping

As private-sector retirees took hits, many Mainers worked for the state or schools while also getting state pensions in 2011.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

and John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Deputy Chief Stephen Smith retired in 2008 and receives $58,812 a year in state pension benefits, along with a city salary of $72,420.

William Braun, the superintendent of School Administrative District 48 in Newport, is one of the top earners on the state's list of working retirees. He took in $202,572 in combined salary and pension benefits last year, according to the data.

Braun said criticism of double dippers, and superintendents in particular, is unfair.

"It's a savings account, basically. The employee put those dollars into the retirement system," he said. "If I had an IRA or some other plan, would someone be complaining if I started collecting from that?"

Public employees do contribute to their pensions -- 7.65 percent of their salaries. The state also contributes, however, and it covers the pension plan's stock market losses so it can guarantee the benefits and pay cost-of-living increases.

SUPERINTENDENT SHORTAGE CITED

The double-dipping issue is now getting another review in Maine's Legislature, following the introduction of a bill by Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick.

Maine's current law took effect in September and limits the salaries of retirees who return to work to 75 percent of what the positions would otherwise pay. It also limits their post-retirement service to five additional years, and prevents retirees who return to work from getting health insurance. The law affects anyone who retired after Sept. 1 last year, although substitute teachers are exempt from the limits.

As currently written, Hill's measure would lift the restrictions instituted last year on some public employees. However, it would not change the limits for school superintendents, who have more flexibililty to negotiate salaries than do teachers and state workers, according to supporters of the bill.

The bill, L.D. 1632, is pending before the Appropriations Committee, and is still subject to amendment.

While lawmakers said the original law was intended to target superintendents, the Maine Education Association says teachers and educational technicians have been hurt the most by the new restrictions.

"Don't discriminate against some 65-year-old teacher who has to go back to work," said Chris Galgay, president of the union.

The Maine School Superintendents Association, meanwhile, says the law is crimping an already tight supply of qualified superintendents.

There are about 15 superintendent openings around the state right now, and many districts are getting fewer than 10 applicants, mostly from people with no prior experience as a superintendent, said Sandra MacArthur, deputy executive director of the Maine School Management Association.

"We have a hard time getting people to sign up on an interim (superintendent) list because they'll make 75 percent," she said.

Braun, the Newport superintendent, said Maine school chiefs will now seek work in other states, where they can collect their Maine pensions and find higher salaries than those offered here. "You're going to have an exit of people in a certain age group who retire in this state and go to another state," he said.

The people who hire retirees say they get experienced people who actually cost the state less than hiring someone else at the same salary.

That's because the state no longer makes pension contributions for retirees and doesn't have to pay for health insurance, which retirees get elsewhere.

Braun's boss, SAD 48 School Board Chairman Dan Costain, said the board wanted to keep Braun on active service, even though he planned to retire a few years ago. Braun routinely works 60 to 70 hours a week, juggles state and federal regulations, and manages a budget of more than $20 million a year, he said.

"He was doing a great job for us," he said. "He retired and we allowed him to come back. He retired one day and returned the next day."

(Continued on page 3)

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Public employees

Do you believe Maine should put in place more restrictions on benefits or compensation for workers in the state's public employees retirement system who retire and then return to work?

Yes

No

View Results