Nevada Officials Fear New Law Could Lead to Teacher Exodus

A new state law that affects the future retirement benefits of local government employees could lead to a mass exodus of Nevada's most experienced teachers and administrators, a top state education official warned.

Under the law, such nonstate employees must retire by Sept. 1, 2008 if they want to remain in the state's Public Employees' Benefits Program. If they choose not to retire, they will lose a state subsidy ranging from $91 to $502 a month in their health insurance premiums.

The change will affect all local government employees, including those who work for school, water and health districts.

"We are concerned that we could lose our most valued teachers and lose other individuals who were not planning to retire, but who will do so because of the monetary incentive based on continuation of this insurance benefit," said Gloria Dopf, deputy superintendent of the Nevada Department of Education.

Dopf told the Reno Gazette-Journal that no estimates were available on how many teachers, principals and other school employees across the state will choose to retire rather than lose the subsidy.

The Washoe County School District recently conducted an anonymous online survey of 920 employees eligible to take early retirement in order to keep subsidies.

Of 368 employees who responded, 111 said they would retire and 140 were undecided.

"It's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation," said Candy Carter, the head of McQueen High School's English Department.

It's a commentary on the larger issue of health care in the country, Carter added.

"People are having to make life decisions to make sure their health insurance is covered," she said. "It's an example of why our health system needs to be looked at seriously."

Washoe County Schools Superintendent Paul Dugan said he's worried about losing the district's most experienced, talented teachers and administrators.

Under a "critical need" provision, the state allows school districts to rehire retired employees for hard-to-fill positions without those employees losing retirement benefits.

"I don't want to cry wolf and say the sky is falling because we don't really know yet" about the impact, Dugan said.
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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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