WASHINGTON – After 32 years of teaching, William Campbell finally decided to retire in June 1999. But he didn’t stay away from school for too long.
That September, Campbell went back to teaching technology at Anne Arundel’s Central Middle School.
He was one of the first of what has now become a wave of retirees who are taking advantage of a recent law that lets them return to teaching and collect both their pensions and a teacher’s salary, with no caps on either.
As many as 500 retired teachers are estimated to be back in the classroom this year as a result of the law, which was passed in 1999 in an effort to solve the looming state teacher shortage. The law was only to apply to systems with critical shortages – which ended up being all 24 school systems.
“It’s an `everybody wins’ situation,” said Neil Greenberger, spokesman for the state Department of Education. “People who are probably underpaid almost all of their lives now have a chance to make some real money.”
He said there are no extra costs in the deal — the retirement system pays the pension and the schools pay a teacher’s salary that they would have had to pay anyway. And schools are not obligated to hire teachers at their previous salaries, he said.
“I don’t see it as anyone loses in any regard. Not a dollar is being paid that costs anything,” Greenberger said.
The number of retiring teachers could triple to 3,600 in 2002, when more than half of the state’s 50,000 teachers become eligible for retirement. Greenberger said he did not think the new law that lets retirees go back to the classroom would backfire by enticing more teachers to leave the system earlier.
“It may lure some people out, but it’s not like they can just retire early. They have to be eligible and meet the standards,” he said. Retirement requires at least 30 years of teaching.
In the second year of this program, an estimated 400 to 500 retirees are taking advantage of it, most of them in teacher-strapped Prince George’s County. It has rehired 398 teachers, said Judith Miller, associate superintendent for human resources for the county.
She said the program has not only filled vacancies, but has filled them with experienced teachers that the system was in danger of losing.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to have people in our system who are fully certified, have worked with children for a long time and have skills to share with new teachers,” Miller said. “They know the history (of the schools) and they understand the curriculum. This allows us to keep valuable resources in our system.”
In Anne Arundel County, 18 retired teachers were rehired, said David Lombardo, director of human resources for county schools. The hires helped fill critical shortages in math and science classes.
Calvert County will have six retired teachers back on board by October, said Pat Young, the school system’s director of school personnel. She said the only potential problem she can foresee “would be someone who retired a long time ago because the curriculum changes.” But schools are under no obligation to hire retirees who they do not feel are qualified.
The Maryland PTA also looks favorably on the new program.
“I like the idea because they (retirees) are experienced and have knowledge. They are bringing the most experienced teachers to the children who need the most,” said Wanda Hurt, vice president for legislation for the Maryland PTA.
Greenberger emphasized the importance of that experience.
“Who really loses in this? Really nobody. The big winners are kids because they get teachers with 30 years of experience,” he said.
But parents and school officials are not the only ones who like the new program. So do many retired teachers.
“The retired teachers think it is a great idea. The primary need in Maryland is not just bodies in classrooms but certificated teachers,” said Robert Miller, president of the Maryland Retired Teachers Association.
Yet, he said many of his members are not considering going back.
“I had my full 35 years and that’s enough. That’s also the mindset of many others. We have 15,000 members and I doubt seriously if over 500 would even consider it,” Miller said.
“I’ve been retired 12 years and as each year goes by, it’s much harder for me to return. It’s just so different now than when I first started teaching in the ’50s,” he said.
Miller said that those going back are most likely younger teachers, who have just recently retired. Teachers like Campbell.
Even though he was earning more than his principal when he went back to the classroom, Campbell said there was another attraction.
“I still felt like I had teaching in me. I still had something to contribute. I’m not ready to be put out to the pasture,” he said.