Adding it up

School board, employees clash over benefits

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More than 50 Moffat County School District employees showed their disapproval Monday of a recent board of education decision to discontinue the use of a sick day buy-back option for retiring workers.

The board of made the decision at last month's meeting.

But the employees who attended the meeting Monday said they either want their

buy-back option back or they want an early retirement incentive.

"At one time people got nice packages and now they don't," said Tom Beachman, Moffat County High School librarian.

"The board is asking for trouble if they continue in that style. We did have a policy but now we don't."

For that past two years the board has been using a sick leave conversion option created in state House Bill 1458.

Using the option, sick days accrued during an employee's tenure could be added to an employee's monthly retirement pay.

Board President Phil Hastings said the board's rationale to discontinuing the buy-back plan is a financial issue.

"It's a philosophical issue of whether sick leave is an insurance benefit or entitlement benefit at retirement," Hastings said.

"The board looks at sick leave as insurance."

Moffat County High School Athletic Director Jim Loughran, who also teaches social studies teacher, said the issue was not going to go away.

"There needs to be a fair, equitable plan," Loughran said.

The athletic director said teachers nearing retirement should be rewarded for their dedication.

"These are the teachers that are the foundation of the school district," he said. "The teachers that have been here for more than 20 years are the foundation of the school district and what makes it go. I and other teachers have come to school sick because our No. 1 priority is the kids."

The board made the wrong decision last month, he said.

"I've been negotiating this for two years and in the past two years we've been denied," he said. "I think the board made a mistake. When you made that decision you made a mistake. I think I represent the people in this audience. We all feel the same way. We've worked hard to make this a good school district."

After the meeting Loughran said he hoped the board would reconsider its recent decision after hearing the concerns of district employees Monday night.

"We want them to rethink what they did," he said. "We want to work with them on creating a buy-back or early retirement policy."

He said he thinks it is important that the buy-back incentive be kept in place.

"The board has been doing that with some school teachers but they have decided they won't do that after this year," he said. "It's an incentive or reward for teachers not to use sick days. By doing that it's a reward for the district to have teachers in the classroom."

Loughran said he hopes something can be worked out.

"It's a negative situation with us and the board," he said. "It's something a lot of teachers feel is important to the district."

Hastings said the issue will be discussed in coming months.

"There will be an open discussion between administration and teachers for the next six months," he said. "It doesn't mean anything is going to happen but we are open to ideas. We're open to look at the proposals that anyone might have."

Superintendent Pete Bergmann estimated the buy-back policy cost the school district less than $10,000 last year.

"It's not a huge budget issue," he said. "It's a philosophical issue. If we were to grant all of them it would cost in the thousands but it would not be a significant impact."

Bergmann said some other businesses spend much more money on severance packages.

"When I say it's not a huge cost to the district, I mean it's not a huge cost increase compared to some severance packages that are out there," he said. "Compared to some business severance packages it is very small."

Bergmann said he thinks an agreement can be worked out between the school board and employees.

"I think there can be a win-win policy created and we should have a policy in place for consistency," he said.

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