More than 400 teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador received salary and pension benefits in 2009, says the auditor general’s report, without enough monitoring to ensure jobs go to non-pensioned teachers first.
During the 2009 calendar year, 443 teachers were paid $5.2 million in salary while collecting $15.6 million in pension benefits, says John Noseworthy, but he stresses it’s not the double-dipping that’s a concern. With approval from the finance minister, pensioned teachers can teach for 65 days each school year and still be entitled to receive their pensions, as long as government policies are followed that ensure jobs go to non-pensioned teachers first — and that’s where Noseworthy found problems.
“We had a look at those pensioners, just to see if they were hired in accordance with the rules,” he said, noting the department looked at 138 school district applications to hire pensioned teachers.
“What we found is that none of the 138 applications were approved by the minister of finance as required by the Teachers’ Pension Act. Instead they were approved by the minister of education.”
Also in contravention of the Teachers’ Pension Act, 60 pensioned teachers were hired for more than 65 days without having their pension benefits suspended, including six teachers employed for three years under multiple applications to the minister of education.
“So you’d wonder about succession planning if for three years you keep six teachers on, year after year, simply by using these applications. That didn’t seem right,” said Noseworthy. And despite a policy to give preference to qualified applicants who aren’t receiving pension benefits, Noseworthy’s office found four positions that went to pension-drawing teachers despite receiving at least 73 applications.
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But Lily Cole, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association says the reliance on pensioned teachers reflects poor recruitment and retention on the part of the provincial government.
“Some of these positions are in rural Newfoundland, and in order to get people to move their families and to go out to rural Newfoundland, we have to ensure that there is a good compensation package for them to do so. And we’re finding now that we’re not getting the teachers to go to these places,” Cole said.
“Now, having no qualified teachers in these areas, then we think a retired teacher who’s qualified to do that position is certainly adequate.”
Education Minister Joan Burke disagreed that there isn’t an adequate talent pool for school boards to draw on, and noted the minister of education signs off on hiring a pensioned teacher if boards can demonstrate there were no qualified non-pensioned applicants.
“There may be times when there’s a job available. It may not be in an area that’s necessarily hard to recruit, but it may be for a specialty position, for somebody to teach math, physics, chemistry or music. Sometimes you’re left with the decision to hire somebody who is not qualified but not collecting a pension, versus somebody who is qualified and collecting a pension,” she said, adding the minister of finance will now sign off on applications to rehire pensioned teachers.
Burke said it’s “absolutely necessary” school boards ensure they do everything to reach qualified applicants who aren’t drawing pensions.
“I will be communicating back to the boards about the importance of it, and I’ll be stressing that they need to do whatever they need to do to hire people who are not in receipt of pensions,” she said.
The auditor general says he doesn’t think ignorance of the rules is the problem.
“The rules are not complicated, and I think they were communicated. I think a lot of people in the public generally understand that you just can’t rehire pensioners unless there’s a good reason, and you need to have the proper approval,” said Noseworthy.
The president of the Retired Teachers’ Association of Newfoundland and Labrador declined to comment on the report.
“That’s between the boards, the government and the teachers who are employed. We have nothing to do with employment of teachers,” said Geraldine Wall, who said she didn’t know if any members of the association are also currently teaching.
“There are approximately between 7,000 and 8,000 retired teachers in the province, and we have 5,564 members. So how do I know that these people are even members of our association?”