When is retirement not retirement?

April 21, 2010

Guelph Mercury, 04/21/10teacher

A police officer doesn’t keep chasing bad guys after he leaves the service. The post man doesn’t keep delivering your mail once he hands in his mailbag. So why does no one blink when school teachers retire, and keep on working?

For years, the practice of retired teachers taking supply positions has been as normal as budget cuts and fundraisers at school boards in Ontario. But we’re not talking about taking a few supply days here and there – we’re talking about retired teachers accepting long-term supply contracts on top of pulling in their pensions.

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you want to pad your retirement income, that’s your business. The problem, though, is that a retired supply teacher costs school boards about twice as much as a new teacher, and takes away another job opportunity for Ontario’s oversupply of teaching graduates.

A report by the Globe and Mail this week put in concrete terms what has been common practice in schools for too long. The newspaper found the province’s 10 largest school boards would have saved $16.7 million last year if they had hired recently certified teachers instead of retired teachers for supply work.

That practice leaves new teachers struggling to get the job experience they need to land a coveted full-time gig. They’ve been saying for years it’s time their retired counterparts to act like they’re retired and put down the chalk, but it seems no one has been listening.

Because union pay scales are based on years of service, some retirees are paid twice as much for a day’s supply work than a new teacher. I understand that principals and schools want teachers with experience, but favouring retired teachers over recent grads with no regard for the cost – when so many boards are strapped for cash – looks like cronyism. Kids, meanwhile, are cheated out of the new energy brought to the classroom by young, recently certified teachers.

The rules that allow teachers to work up to 95 supply days in the first three years after they retire is a leftover from the old days of Ontario’s teacher shortages. Today, the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that there are so few openings for teachers that some grads wait years to get a job.

Until then, they have to make due with the scraps left behind by older teachers who are allegedly retired. Understandably, they’re frustrated.

The Ontario College of Teachers’ manager of human resources says the province is producing 7,500 more new teachers each year than there are retirements. No wonder young people with education degrees are packing up their suitcases and teaching English in places like Korea, knowing it’ll be years before more teaching jobs start opening up here.

To help reduce the supply, Ontario has told its universities to cut as many as 1,000 openings from their teaching programs in the next few years. That will help reduce the supply problem, in a province where there’s two graduates for every teaching job.

And now the government says it’s looking at fixing the rules around how many supply days a teacher can work once they retire. Good. But the bigger question is this – why did it take a series of embarrassing stories in the national press before the province and its teachers union vowed to do something?

In the meantime, school boards can start being proactive on the issue. They can start hiring more young teachers as supply instructors, and they can start doing it today.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

One Response to When is retirement not retirement?

  1. Ian Gibson on October 7, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Thank you to Greg Mercer for bringing the attention of the greedy double dipping baby-boomer teachers to the Guelph and area readership.

    As a teacher who received certification five years ago, I went overseas to earn money to pay off OSAP. I continue to struggle at 35 years of age, waiting to get onto the supply pool for the Upper Grand District School Board. I collect unemployment insurance, live at home with Mom and Dad. I volunteer at schools, and I stare at my two university degrees on the wall and think, what a waste of time and money.

    Of course, our local MPs and MPPs haven’t wanted to help me or any of the other thousands of teachers in this county. It’s understandable, when it’s the greedy double-dipping baby boomer teachers who elected them in the first place. It’s a mutual reciprocity. Time will come when it’s our time to vote, and it will be Green party all the way.

    I say shame on Frank Valeriote, Liz Sandals, and all the dubious school board officials in Ontario (top to bottom, Catholic board as well), who continue to feed into the nepotism. I find it remarkable that the taxpayers in Ontario would want to pay me welfare each month, to volunteer, and then pay a retired teacher an additional $45,000 per year on top of their pension. Five years of head-scratching has finally come to fruition.

    I suggest rather than preventing new teachers from entering the bottom rung of the teaching world (supplying), they should pink slip every single teacher who is 50 and up, who is greedily costing the local and provincial tax payers millions of dollars. There are close to 100,000 new teachers in Ontario who have been certified since I graduated, and only a small percentage have gotten in to teach.

    How is this productive? And how exactly is the Ontario College of Teachers really looking out for mine and your best interest? Put simply: It isn’t!

    In the meantime, I’m going to use more taxpayers’ money to go back to school, to get my PhD, so that in five years time I won’t have to worry about being 40, still living at home, waiting to get on the supply list; I’ll be working as a professor at some college outside of Canada, where I’ll be appreciated and valued.

    Ian Gibson, Guelph

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