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City schools set retirement incentive; Buffalo board approves offering one-time payments to 400 teachers, 23 administrators

More than 400 teachers and 23 administrators in the Buffalo Public School system will be eligible for a retirement incentive approved Wednesday by the Board of Education.

The incentive offers a one-time payment of $10,000 to teachers and $12,500 to $20,000 to administrators.

"The objective is to avoid layoffs and save some money," said Barbara J. Smith, the district's chief financial officer.

Eligible employees have until April 30 to let the district know they want to take the incentive. They have until June 30 to retire.

The incentive is available for teachers and administrators who are no longer eligible for the retirement incentive that is built into their contracts. In most cases, that means employees who are 58 or older.

The board unanimously approved the new incentive at a special meeting specifically scheduled to discuss it.

Florence Johnson, an at-large board member, noted that the district so far has not succeeded in getting the State Legislature to repeal the "last in, first out" law that requires Buffalo and other large upstate urban districts to lay off the least experienced teachers first. "[The retirement incentive] provides us an opportunity to maintain some of those young people who are creative and energetic," she said. "Once we lose them, we won't be able to get them back."

Board members and district officials said they hope enough veteran teachers opt for the incentive so that the district will be able to minimize the possible domino effect that could be caused by the displacement of teachers at low-performing schools under a school turnaround model that the district has adopted.

"We're hoping all these things fall into place at the same time," President Ralph R. Hernandez said.

The district has opted for the turnaround model at seven of the low-performing schools. Under that model, it is required to replace the principal and at least half the staff in each school. More than 200 teachers will have to be reassigned.

Those teachers will get first dibs on any positions that open in the district, whether through retirement, resignation or other reasons. If there are more displaced teachers than open positions, there is a possibility they could bump less-experienced teachers in other schools.

Smith said she projects the district will save about $21,000 for each teacher who takes the retirement incentive.

That's essentially the difference between a veteran teacher's salary and benefits, which average $83,300, and a second-year teacher's salary and benefits, which would be about $55,600, minus the amount the district would have to pay to a young teacher in unemployment benefits.

The district will essentially split the $21,000-per-teacher savings with the retiring teachers through the one-time payments, she said.

The rules are somewhat different for administrators. That group includes some principals, assistant principals, program directors and other central office administrators.

Eight of them must decide to retire for the district to pay any incentive, Smith said. If eight to 14 of them retire, they will each get $12,500; if 15 to 19 retire, they will each get $17,500; and if 20 or more retire, they will each get $20,000.

"The more administrators that retire, the more likely that we get the group that we want to go. There are 23 that are eligible. To get the right mix, you want to entice more to go," Smith said.

Administrators will not know how big their incentives will be until the district tallies the number who decide to retire, Smith said. If fewer than eight opt to retire, they will not get any incentive payment, she said.

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