Prog-MHS Chinese language class

Students at Muscatine High School not only have the opportunity to learn Spanish, French and German, but, they can also take four years of Chinese language. Muscatine High School world language teacher Carol Kula not only teaches the Chinese language, but, also the culture of the country.

BETH VAN ZANDT/MUSCATINE JOURNAL FILE PHOTO

MUSCATINE — The Muscatine School Board approved the establishment of an early retirement incentive program for fiscal year 2018 at Monday's meeting. This will mean that full-time employees who are 55 years or older and have worked for the district for at least 15 years have the option to retire earlier.

“The plan that is being proposed is the same as what was offered last year,” said Superintendent Jerry Riibe. Riibe explained that last year, 28 percent of the eligible employees took the early retirement plan.

“If we had that 28 percent take it again, we could savings in possibly the $200,000 to $225,000.”

The district uses early retirement as one way of adjusting to lower enrollment numbers. If a teacher decides to retire early and the district does not replace them, then the district has one less employee to pay for. This is a way of minimizing the overhead of running the school. Riibe said there are around 60 employees who are eligible.

“As you know enrollment is down this year so we will have a reduction in state monies,” Riibe said. “We are kind of looking at $1 million (in lost spending authority). This would help with some of that.”

Board member Aaron Finn said that the school district has offered early retirement in some form most years since he has been on the board. Though he has voted in favor of these early retirement plans presented in the past, he worries about how existing attrition rates and early retirement could contribute to unpredictable teacher numbers over time.

“Early retirement isn’t the only way that teachers leave the district,” Finn said. “With attrition being what it is, it’s important that we try to nail down how we employees are leaving so we can have the best prediction for the future.”

For Riibe, the crunch that declining enrollment puts on the district is as much a budget issue as it is a retirement issue.

“It’s a benefit to employees, but it would also be a benefit to us because we would know in January who is planning on coming back so we could start making plans,” Riibe said. “We’ve been very effective. When you think of what the board has done to reduce spending significantly over the last four or five years, we really haven’t had to lay anyone off.”

In order to be eligible, prospective enrollees must be full-time and qualified for participation in the district's health insurance plans. They must be under contract with the school district in the fiscal year prior to retirement. They must have worked for Muscatine Community School District for not less than 15 academic years and be older than 55 years of age at the date of retirement. 

Early retirees will have access to the school district's health insurance program until they are 65 and Medicare becomes available. However, the school district reserves the right to modify its coverages and its charges without regard to its retirees. Retirees have the right to drop coverages at any time, but once given up, the retiree opts out of the district's insurance coverage for good.

The board made Jan. 3, 2018, the deadline for final board approval of the plan.

The early commitment time gives employees the time required by law, Riibe said. “It gives them a couple of holiday times to talk to family, meet with a financial adviser or retirement specialist or whatever they need so they can make the best decision for themselves and for their family.”

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