New business helps keep experienced <br>educators in classroom<br>Staff Reporter<br>

Keeping good educators in the school system can be tough these days.

With budget cuts and poor funding, schools struggle to keep their heads above water. In order to play the numbers well, school boards find themselves encouraging the highest paid teachers to retire so the money used for their salary can be applied toward the hiring of less-experienced teachers.

The result — experienced teachers leave the schools often before they are ready and take jobs with charter schools in order to continue working.

When this became an overwhelming problem for the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, the school board turned to Superintendent Dr. John Tavasci, Assistant Superintendent Dave Osborn, and Business Manager Sue Bring for help.

“The board saw their experienced teachers leaving, collecting retirement while stepping in as educators for charter schools,” Osborn said. “They asked us if something could be done about it. At that time, two years ago, it was looking like the Arizona Retirement System might have a window of opportunity and we saw it was too good to pass up. We began brainstorming on how to make something happen. We looked at all the employees who were ready to retire and asked how we could keep those who were most qualified in the district rather than losing them to charter schools. This is when we created a professional employment organization.”

This professional employment organization is named Educational Services Incorporated and is in its first year of business. In leasing educators back to the school district, the company’s services not only aid the individual who is qualified for retirement so they can collect retirement while continuing tho work for the district, but the district pays only 85 percent of that teacher’s salary. ESI collects 10 percent of that salary for administrative services and in the end everybody wins.

“The teacher ends up making more money because they are collecting retirement and a salary,” Osborn said. “And the district saves money. In a state where there is a shortage of teachers, we are trying to make it an attractive experience for teachers to forestall leaving the system and stay a few extra years.”

With the current salary schedule, teachers are paid for their education along with earned credit hours and years of experience. This system of steps bottoms out at a particular point, leaving experienced teachers sitting with their maximum earning potential long before retirement. In addition, if this experienced teacher decides to work for another school, districts often only compensate them for half their earned years of experience.

With this system, these teachers are locked into districts or take a considerable loss if they decide to change jobs.

With ESI, the teacher can move to any district they prefer as long as the school is willing to negotiate a contract. Currently, educating other school districts about how teacher leasing works is something ESI is in the process of doing.

“We have gained a lot of interest statewide,” Osborn said. “Initially it was new and I think people were waiting to see how it would work. Now it has proven itself.”

This is true for the Camp Verde School District. Tuesday night the district accepted bids on services from companies such as ESI and including ESI. Superintendent Marilyn Semones said participation in the program is something their teachers expressed an interest in last spring.

“During our meet and confer meeting last spring, teachers asked to explore this concept,” she said. “We have been looking at it for over a year. This is their first year in Cottonwood and we wanted to see what happened.”

For Camp Verde School Board President Charlie German, an employee of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District and of ESI, the program has helped him remain a teacher.”

“Two years ago I was looking at different possibilities. They wanted me to work half a year or half a day. This didn’t make sense to me, driving from Camp Verde. I wasn’t ready to retire and because of their efforts, I can still continue my life passion of teaching with Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District.”

Osborn said many schools are concerned about the legality of the system as it seems too good to be true.

“Before creating this business we consulted our attorneys, auditors and went to the county attorney to help set the guidelines,” he said. “Because we work for the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, in order to assure there is no conflict of interest, we remove ourselves from the decision-making process and the teacher goes directly to the board. We don’t influence any decisions and we do not make a profit off of this district. We don’t charge the 10 percent because of obvious reasons.”

ESI is also the owner of Pathways Charter High School in Camp Verde.

For more information on ESI, call 634-2288.

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