A recently introduced bill in the Ohio House of Representatives would prevent retired public employees from collecting their pension while working another government job.
The practice, often referred to as "double dipping," has been debated for years, with critics saying a person shouldn't be able to get a paycheck and a pension simultaneously, especially if they're going back to the same job. Supporters say the worker has earned his or her pension and hiring someone getting that money allows agencies to save money while keeping experienced employees.
"But the system is paying him to be retired," said state Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, a co-sponsor of the bill. "So basically he's being paid twice by the state of Ohio."
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Wolf Creek Local Schools Superintendent Bob Caldwell speaks during a board of education meeting this week. Caldwell retired eight years ago and has continued to work for the district at the same salary since.
House Bill 388 would prohibit someone from collecting their public pension while working for a public employer after their retirement. It would only affect retirees taking jobs after the law went into effect.
As it is written, the bill would also apply to people who work part-time, such as substitute teachers, and retired government workers who are elected to public office.
Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, said she has spoken to some school superintendents, particularly in rural areas, who say they sometimes struggle to find substitute teachers and bus drivers.
About House Bill 388
- A person who retired as a public employee then went back to work for a public entity could not collect his or her pension while working at the post-retirement job.
- According to the first draft of the bill, the monthly pension payments during that time would go into a separate account and the worker would receive that money through a monthly annuity or lump-sum payment.
- The bill is written so that it would also apply to elected officials.
"For some of our school districts, the people who most often serve as substitute teachers are retired teachers," she said.
Thompson said the bill was written as strictly as possible and some "reasonable exceptions" are likely to come up in committee.
The bill is one step toward fixing Ohio's troubled pension systems, Thompson said. But Phillips said she doubted this bill would have much long-term impact, and the General Assembly needs to enact recommendations made by the Ohio Retirement Study Council to effect the needed reform.
"Modest adjustments now could prevent the need for more extreme adjustments in the future," she said.
Another argument for H.B. 388, Thompson said, is that rehired retirees take up jobs that might otherwise be occupied by new, younger workers.
"I do think that we benefit from having new, fresh blood coming in," he said.
Marietta High School Principal Bill Lee said he understands that perspective but he noted there are advantages to keeping experienced teachers in place as well.
"You have a good flow, if you will," he said. "The teacher that's on board knows the students, knows the community."
Lee came to work at Marietta in 2009, after retiring from Cambridge City Schools. He said part of the original rationale for allowing retired workers to collect a pension and a paycheck was because quality administrators were hard to find for some school districts.
The Marietta City school district is considering signing a long-term contract with a retired administrator, interim Superintendent Harry Fleming. Fleming retired from Belpre City Schools in 2005, then was rehired and remained in that position until the spring of 2011.
Fleming said he thinks the option of hiring retirees is beneficial to school districts.
"It keeps their options open. It promotes local control," he said. "It's cheaper to the district, so why would you want to take away that option?"
In addition to Lee and Fleming, the Marietta district employs four other retired public workers - two secretaries and two staff members at St. Mary's School.
Even if the bill is passed, Fleming would not impacted as long as a new contract with the district is in place before the law went into effect. Still, Fleming, who is being paid $94,000 on his interim contract, said not being able to collect his pension would not affect his decision to stay on with the district or the amount of compensation he sought.
Two other area superintendents - Wolf Creek Local's Bob Caldwell and Fort Frye's Dora Jean Bumgarner - collect pensions in addition to salaries. Bumgarner is an interim superintendent, while Caldwell retired after six years at Wolf Creek and has continued in the job for the last eight at the same salary of approximately $89,000.
"I agreed during my first five-year contract (after being rehired) that I wouldn't take any increases," Caldwell said.
Caldwell said he thinks the bill being considered could discourage future teachers from considering continuing to work after retirement. That could be a detriment to the district, he said.
Retired teachers who are rehired in the Wolf Creek district come in at the bottom of the salary scale, meaning the district is getting an experienced teacher for a much lower salary, Caldwell said. He noted that option is not automatically open to all teachers.
"We have to feel that they're our best," he said.
While the rehiring of retirees is perhaps most commonly associated with schools, they aren't the only public entities that do so.
Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said retired corrections officer Bev Britton works four days a week supervising work projects by county jail inmates. She's paid $17.93 an hour.
And Deputy Dave Tornes, who works security and transportation, will be retiring soon and coming back as an evidence technician. He will make about $17 an hour in the new job, down from his current rate of $18.47 an hour, Mincks said.
The office also uses some retired deputies on a part-time basis as reserve deputies. Mincks said he thinks the bill might encourage some people to work longer before retiring.
"Whenever you have somebody retire, you lose an awful lot of experience and ability," he said.
While some people have called the retire/rehire process an unfair drain on public funds, several area residents this week said they had no problem with it.
Vincent resident Cindy Jett, 55, said she thinks H.B. 388 is "a bad idea."
"If they've earned their pension, they ought to be able to get their pension and work too," she said.
Muskingum Township resident Diana Eesley, 61, said she does not think there should be a prohibition on a person receiving their government pension while they work another public job. But she does favor a limit on how much they can make in that job.
"I think there should be a cap on how much you can earn in that new job if you're already receiving a pension," she said.