Howard Blume reports that charters in Los Angeles are trying to avoid the cost of paying pensions by advising teachers who near retirement age to go to work for the public school system.


His fascinating story begins:



“A Woodland Hills charter school recently made an unusual offer to its veteran teachers: We’ll give you $30,000 if you return to the Los Angeles Unified School District before you retire.


“It wasn’t the teachers that El Camino Real Charter High School wanted to get rid of. It was the cost of their retirement benefits.

“The school’s cost-shifting strategy is one of many flashpoints between traditional public schools and the independent charters they compete with for students and money.


“In this case, it’s a battle over who should pay for an employee’s health benefits after retirement — the charter school or the larger school district.

“Financial challenges are all-but-universal in the education world, and retiree benefits are particularly costly. L.A. Unified’s unfunded liability for employee benefits has escalated to $13.6 billion.


“The El Camino plan would add from $2.5 million to $4.2 million to that deficit, based on district estimates. The idea is that teachers would spend their careers in the charter school, but later transfer to LAUSD to qualify for the huge institution’s retirement benefits.


“Except the district has decided not to play ball.


“Teachers who return to the district, simply to retire, are not entitled to district retirement benefits, general counsel David Holmquist said.


“This would be an obligation that in my view would be the charter’s responsibility,” Holmquist said.”


Blume points out that this decision raises interesting questions about Eli Broad’s plan to open 260 new charter schools, which will require some rethinking when they can’t dump their pension obligations on the public schools.


Guess Eli’s charters will have to stick with Teach for America, whose teachers are usually long gone before qualifying for a pension.