Ontario schools crack down on retirees who ‘double-dip’ with supply jobs
While the Ontario government works to address the disproportionate amount of supply work that goes to retired teachers, some school boards are taking the matter into their own hands.
After realizing it was losing millions of dollars by replacing teachers in the $60,000 pay-range with retired teachers who earned more than $80,000, the Windsor-Essex Catholic district school board has stopped adding retirees to its supply list.
“You can spin it any way you want to, but it’s wrong – allowing retirees to double-dip is wrong,” said Paul Picard, superintendent of human resources for the board.
The government last week vowed to crack down on the rules around pensioners returning to supply-teach after a Globe and Mail investigation revealed that a system rife with loopholes is costing Ontario taxpayers millions of dollars. A 20-year-old policy meant to deal with teacher shortage that has since evaporated allows retirees to teach as much as half the school year, or 95 days, in the first three post-retirement working years and 20 days in following years.
Mr. Picard said that he was always under the impression that the loosened work limits were temporary, and that the rule would return to the 20-day maximum that was in place before 1990. That never happened, and retirees take a big slice of the supply-work pie in some school districts.
In British Columbia, a province that, like Ontario, has grappled with tensions around retirees taking supply-teaching jobs from new teachers, one superintendent said retired teachers should only return to the classroom when there’s no one else with the expertise to do the work.
Keven Elder, superintendent of the school district in Saanich, B.C., said his schools only hire retired teachers to cover subject areas where there’s a shortage, and they regularly monitor the amount of work retirees receive.
“I would advise that the reasons for re-engagement of a retired teacher be clear and limited,” Mr. Elder said. “To me it isn’t about limiting the number of days, it’s about limiting the conditions upon which that person is reemployed as a teacher, and then adhering to those requirements.”
Sources say that one of the options being discussed in Ontario involves permitting retirees to work 50 days in the first three years, and 20 days indefinitely. The government and the teachers’ federation have not indicated whether changes are coming to the self-policing system and loopholes that allow teachers to work beyond any allotted days without their pensions being affected.
The Saanich school district isn’t alone in giving preference to working teachers over retirees on its supply list. Some school divisions in Saskatchewan will only hire retirees if no other substitutes are available. And in Prince Edward Island, retirees who take on long-term supply-teaching contracts have their pension payments stopped during the time of their employment.
The concerns raised in Ontario over retirees padding their pensions and pushing other supply teachers out of the classroom have also been voiced in B.C. A task force formed by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation last year found the concerns were misplaced and that denying retirees work was ageist. The heart of any struggles supply teachers face getting work, the task force concluded, was that some districts placed too many of them on supply lists.
At his board, Mr. Elder said that retirees are generally denied a chance to teach if working teachers have similar qualifications. Teachers call in their own replacements, but if the district discovers that a retiree is getting much of the work, teachers are asked to look at other candidates.
“If there are a large number of people out there with your qualifications ready to fill in as you retire, you should expect that when you retire, you won’t be working any more. To me that’s just what a dynamic work force is all about,” Mr. Elder said.
A nine-month Globe and Mail investigation found supply assignments in Ontario were not divvied up evenly among the work force. Through multiple access-to-information requests and appeals to 10 of Ontario’s largest boards, The Globe revealed last week that retirees worked just as many days in daily supply positions as newly certified teachers, all while picking up their government-subsidized pension cheques averaging $40,000 a year. The biggest school boards alone spent $108.3-million in 2008-09 on hiring retired teachers.
Although both groups earn the same in daily supply roles, retirees earned double the new teachers’ rate for long-term assignments. The 10 boards would have saved $16.7-million in the past academic year had they placed new teachers in the classroom.
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