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Payout for sick day accumulation by teachers may drop

BRADENTON — School employees’ sick leave payout at the time of retirement could change soon, putting less money into the pockets of future hires.

That’s if Manatee County School Board members approve a proposed amended policy change in employee benefits.

And if some other suggestions by board members are also approved, new employees will not be able to transfer in sick time from other districts.

The Manatee school district now pays from 35 percent to 100 percent of accrued sick days to employees when they retire, depending on their length of employment with the district. For early retirees, the district pays 35 percent to 50 percent of accrued sick leave.

But as part of money-saving measures, the school board is considering only paying 25 percent to 75 percent of sick leave for employees hired after July 1, 2010 when they retire. Those opting for early retirement would be paid for 25 percent to 40 percent.

According to its annual financial report, the district paid more than $1.25 million in accrued sick leave in 2008.

And it potentially owes $24.2 million in accrued sick leave to existing employees who are going to retire from the district in the future, said Jim Drake, the district’s assistant superintendent of finance.

If the changes are grandfathered in, current employees would not be affected, school officials say. But the proposed policy might be even further amended by the school board.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to drop it down,” said board member Harry Kinnan. “We have very good coverage and we’re trying to be true to that. But at the same time, cuts have to be made. The issue of health care is just so prevalent as we try to manage our budget.”

The district for the upcoming school year is working with a $697 million budget. So far, $13.6 million in cuts have been made. Superintendent Tim McGonegal has said that $25 million in cuts need to be made during the next three school years.

“We have looked at every aspect of our financial operations, and this is one of a hundred changes being made to save us money over time,” McGonegal said. “Is it a lot of money in one year? No. But in 20 years our organization will be stronger because of changes like this.”

District officials are working out estimates on potential savings. McGonegal said that 20 years from now the savings could be in the millions.

In an effort to see where more expenses can be cut, board member Bob Gause presented some additional suggestions to board members during the Aug. 10 board meeting. One included paying a 25 percent rate for all accrued sick leave for retiring employees who are hired after July 1, 2010. Payout for sick days accrued prior to that date would remain unchanged.

“I’m trying not to go backwards on people and take something away from them, but I am trying to limit our exposure going forward,” Gause said.

Another recommendation from Gause: Employees hired after July 1, 2010 cannot transfer in any sick leave.

“Right now, if you come from another district, we pay about 50 percent of those sick days,” Gause said. “My question is, why would we pay for any of them?”

Under the current policy, employees from other districts can transfer in all sick leave days with limitations. For each month they work in the new district, they can transfer one sick day in from their last district.

Kinnan agreed it would be a good idea not to have new hires transfer in days.

“A lot of those teachers have retired and have benefits from other states, so I certainly would say we should look at not allowing them to bring any time in. We have a great responsibility to those in our system, but I think the area the board is most interested in looking at is those teachers who have not been with us.”

School union representatives could not be reached for comment Friday.

A public hearing on the proposed changes to the employee benefits policy is set for Aug. 24. Following that, the board will vote.