AUGUSTA — Teachers and state workers are being hurt by restrictions meant to crack down on double-dipping, the practice of collecting retirement benefits while continuing to work and drawing a full paycheck, a southern Maine lawmaker said Tuesday.

Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, is sponsoring a bill that would apply the restrictions only to superintendents and principals, not classroom teachers and state workers.

“We completely missed our target,” she said, referring to limits put in place last year as part of the two-year state budget.

Those limits sought to reduce the number of double-dippers, estimated to be in the hundreds, who some contend would retire on a Friday and return to work the following Monday newly eligible to collect both a paycheck and their retirement checks.

The restrictions don’t allow retired teachers and state workers to receive health insurance, and their pay is limited to 75 percent of the compensation established for the positions they hold. Also, the restrictions limit rehired employees to five additional years of service.

Hill said while lawmakers were targeting superintendents and other highly paid administrators, the law had the unintended effect of hurting teachers and state workers. Her bill, L.D. 1632, specifically states that the restrictions are to apply only to superintendents and principals.

Chris Galgay, president of the Maine Education Association, said the current restrictions prevent local school boards from hiring back good teachers and teacher assistants.

“A teacher or an ed tech may retire but then find a spouse is ill, has passed away, or another tragedy may occur,” he said. “Our members find it unfortunate that you have placed restrictions on teachers and ed techs that may need to return to teaching out of personal or financial necessity.”

The original changes in the budget were part of a larger package meant to reduce the long-term costs of retiree pensions and health insurance benefits. Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Sawin Millett said he thinks it’s a mistake to get rid of the provisions meant to prevent double-dipping.

He said there have been instances through the years where someone would retire on a Friday and return to work on the following week so they could collect both.

“I continue to feel it is a significant concern,” he said.

In addition, he said older workers are “clogging the career ladder” by keeping their jobs longer, which prevents young talent from advancing. He said statistics provided by the Maine Public Employees Retirement System show hundreds of people are receiving full retirement and full pay.

“It kind of becomes not just anecdotal when you look at the numbers,” he said.

Those statistics were not immediately available to MaineToday Media Tuesday afternoon. The Appropriations Committee, which held the public hearing Tuesday, has not yet set a date for a work session on the bill.

Falmouth High School math teacher Bob McCully, who marked 50 years in the profession this year, said it’s unfair to punish high performers who may want to return after they’ve made the decision to retire.

In particular, he said reducing wages to 75 percent of what others are making is a disincentive.

“I would never give 75 percent of what is needed, or 75 percent of what I am capable of, nor would a teacher with any self-respect,” he said. “I shouldn’t expect to be paid 75 percent of what a position is worth.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]