Durfee High School principal, Ralph Olsen, is double dipping, and according to the Boston Globe, he's happy to be doing it. Olsen, who retired as principal of Framingham High School in 2004, earns $140,000 as Durfee's principal and collects 87,311 in retirement pension.
In the not to distant past this would have been impossible because Massachusetts law bars public retirees from earning more in pension and salary combined then they would have if they had not retired. However fears of a widespread shortage of educators prompted the Legislature to create an exemption for certain educators in 2000.
Now, I don't fault Ralph Olsen for what he's doing. This exemption is a great incentive for a retired educator to come back to work. Still I have to wonder do critical need waivers make sense?
I suppose the concept of 'double dipping' isn't new. It's not new for someone to retire and collect a pension and go back to work in a new occupation or as a consultant. But, the system in place actually encourages educators to take early retirement and then apply for a waiver to continue to work! Think about it, in the case of Principal Olsen what would be the incentive for him to delay retirement and simply take the Durfee job? It's a legal abuse of the pension system and one that encourages the abuse. Is this a good idea?
The purpose of critical need waivers is to help school districts staff hard to fill positions. Given that the waivers need to be renewed yearly it's not supposed to be a long term solution. However as the use of critical need waivers increases so does the likelihood that it becomes a long term solution. If you, utilizing a waiver, hire an experienced professional and get good results, where is the incentive to replace them? This brings into question, what is critical need and how do you prove it? Communities are supposed to make 'good-faith efforts' to find applicants for these positions but according to the Globe, in dozens of cases this just isn't happening.
Think about the situation we currently have in Fall River. A reduced school department budget has resulted in educators being let go. While these non-retired educators search for employment how many waivered educators does Fall River employ? What about the surrounding communities? Does the use of waivers hamper the efforts of non-retired employees to move into these positions?
Perhaps most puzzling of all is the reason we have critical need waivers in the first place. The Legislature created this exemption because they believed that an early-retirement incentive program would send hundreds of teachers into retirement, creating a widespread shortage. According to the new State Education Secretary, these shortages do exist. So instead of creating a loophole for legal pension abuse, why not do away with the early retirement program?
The use of critical need waivers is not going to change any time soon but steps should be taken to limit the potential for abuse and decrease the need. Strongly limiting the number of years a waiver could be renewed would emphasize the need to hire non-retirees. Decreasing or eliminating pension payments a retiree can receive while working with a waiver would certainly be more in line with the intent of the state pension plan.
It's time we 'retire' the early-retirement incentive program and revise just how critical need waivers work.