The retire/rehire situation: Keith Johnson probably won’t be back at NKHS in the fall

It looks like North Kitsap High School French teacher Keith Johnson won’t be back at work in the fall. I spoke with Keith a few days ago and he said he’s heard that interviews have gone forward for the French teaching job. He has not been part of that process.

NK School Board members heard a loud outcry last month after students and parents learned that Johnson, the French teacher at NKHS for 40 years, would not be back. Read more about that here.

Keith said he and his wife, Jan, a long-time librarian at NKHS and throughout the district, are looking at traveling a bit, which sounds great, although talking with Keith leads me to think he would still prefer to do one more year at NK.

I interviewed the Johnsons at their home in Suquamish a few weeks ago, wanting to dig a bit more into the “retire/rehire” situation. Both of them were retire/rehires in NK. The two began teaching in the early 1970s. They graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma and came to Poulsbo on the advice of Keith’s college roommate, who was a native. The Johnsons looked around town and then went over to the school district office and turned in their applications. “We were told to go to Crazy Eric’s for some burgers and then come back,” said Jan. “After lunch we went back and they said we were both hired.” 

At the time, the Johnsons were enrolled in the state’s “Plan I” retirement system. Put bluntly, the retire/rehire system is very confusing and difficult to explain. I’m going to give it my best shot.

Under Plan I, teachers like the Johnsons could retire after 30 years  and then collect 2 percent of their annual final compensation for each year worked, up to 60 percent of their annual final compensation. There is no benefit for working beyond 30 years, which puts a lot of folks in Plan I in teaching at retirement in their mid-50s. As we all know, 40 is the new 29 (bet you can’t guess how old I turn in a few weeks,) so these folks are likely to look for another job. Retire/rehire then comes into the picture. Retire/rehire was originally created to encourage teachers in high-demand areas to come back to teaching and fill shortages. There were limits on the number of hours a retire/rehire teacher could work, but in 2001 those hours were increased to a complete school year.

Keith Johnson officially retired in 2000. For nine years, he has applied and been rehired for his job. He has collected his retirement, plus a paycheck for teaching French at NKHS. In other situations in other school districts, this situation has been roundly criticized as “double dipping, but Keith and Jan Johnson don’t necessarily see it that way.

“I’ve earned this retirement. I’m not taking it from anyone,” said Jan. And not all retirees are rehired, they said. They both work in  “high-demand” teaching areas and can provide the best instruction available to students in those areas. In addition, the Johnsons consider themselves “trapped” in Plan I. Plan II was enacted in 1978 and corrected many of the problems with Plan I but the Johnsons and others like them were not allowed to transfer into Plan II.

So it looks like Keith Johnson will be moving out of his room at NKHS. He’s been in the same room since 1982. A special chalkboard on the wall lists the names of students going back to 1973. Kids who make the list of earned a raw score of 100 or better on a portion of the AP French test. There’s also a Viking purple and gold hammock that will have to come down. And it’s unlikely that there will be a retirement party. Jan said she had planned to invite everyone who learned French in Poulsbo to a big party in the commons at NKHS.

One thought on “The retire/rehire situation: Keith Johnson probably won’t be back at NKHS in the fall

  1. I don’t know anyone who really understands the differences between Plan 1 and Plan II that would feel ‘trapped’ in Plan 1 because they were unable to move to Plan II. The entire idea is ludicrous. Plan I is a gift. It is an unaffordable gift to society, and that’s the biggest reason for the move to Plan II, which is MUCH more strict.

    Here’s the deal. In Plan I you can retire after 30 years of service no matter how old you are. (or age 55 with 20 years service or 60 and any years of service) If you are a teacher who got a teaching job right out of school at age 22, you can retire at 52 with no penalties. You get 60% of your average pay (2 highest years average). You no longer pay into FICA or Plan I, so your take home pay is a lot higher than 60%.

    Compare to Plan II. If you retire prior to age 65 there is a penalty. Your retirement is REDUCED for every year prior to age 65 by several percentage points. If you are one of the other categories with less than 30 years service, the penalty is so great that you effectively cannot retire. In either case, you’d have to think twice and do the careful math.

    The “good” part of Plan II is that there is no limit on years of service. You do not peak out at 30 years or 60%. In the same situation as above, they would retire with 43 years, or 86%, meaning their take home would be about what it was while working. Plus they get social security, so they actually make a lot more retired.

    These rehirees make out like bandits. They essentially get 160% of their normal pay for their rehire years. They get paid medical so they don’t have to worry about that. How would YOU like a deal like that? I’ll bet you’d jump on it.

    No, no one in their right mind would EVER want to convert to Plan II. That is just crazy. Plan I people are just about all retired now, and they can thank their lucky stars they were fortunate enough to get in on it before it went away. And we cannot afford it. That’s what happened in Greece. They are all on a Plan I type system. It’s unsustainable.

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