PORTLAND — The School Committee approved a retirement incentive for qualifying teachers that could save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars next year.

More than 200 employees are eligible for the retirement incentive that offers either a one-time payment of $10,000 or subsidized health-care coverage until the age of 65. 

To qualify for the incentive, employees must be fully eligible for the Maine State Retirement system, be at least 60 years old and have worked full time for the district for at least 10 years. 

Of the 200 employees eligible for the incentive, about half are teachers. Employees have until April 10 to take advantage of the incentive for retirement, which would be effective on June 30.

Joline Hart, School Department human resource director, said the city could realize an annual savings of at least $13,000 for each employee if the employees are replaced by people at lower pay grades.

If the district does not fill the vacated positions, Hart said, the district could save between $50,000 to $60,000 a year for each employee.

“There are a lot of people in this economy who are on the fence about retiring,” Hart said at the committee’s March 18 meeting. “And most of that has to do with health care.”

Hart said the Maine State Retirement system pays 45 percent of the coverage through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. The district would pay the remaining 55 percent of that cost, or nearly $5,000, for those who choose the health-care incentive, until the age of 65.

Should a 60-year-old employee take the incentive, it would cost the district about $17,000 over the next five years, Hart said.

The one-time $10,000 cash payment is being offered to those employees who would not benefit from the health insurance option.

Hart said the proposal isn’t technically an early retirement incentive. “By law, we are not allowed to do that,” she said. 

In response to a question about whether teachers were interested in the incentive, Hart said, “They’re very interested.”

Kathleen Casasa, president of the Portland Educator’s Association, the teacher’s union, encouraged the committee to support the proposal. “This is a really good plan,” she said. 

School Committee Chairman Peter Eglinton said that offering two different retirement options, so employees could choose which option works best for them, made the proposal “very attractive.” 

“This does offer us an opportunity to bring in new teachers,” said Eglinton, noting the potential for increasing the classroom proficiency with technology and new teaching techniques. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected] 

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