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New Hampshire Views: A good plan to curb double-dipping

School officials in Nashua are considering putting a one-year freeze on retirees who want to reapply for a job within the school district. Such a change makes sense on a number of levels.

First, we applaud the board of education for being one of the only groups in the area to openly discuss the practice of “double dipping” and consider what to do about it. For years, towns, schools and the state have hired retired municipal workers to full-time or part-time jobs, allowing them to collect a pension and a salary. These deals can be lucrative for employees, who can collect a combined salary and pension close to $200,000 a year.

Take, for instance, one of the state’s top double-dippers, Robert Quinn, the head of the New Hampshire State Police. He retired as a state trooper in 2010, and one year later he took home $93,791 from the state retirement system at the same time he was collecting a $105,854.04 salary from the state. Not a bad gig.

But at a time when the state retirement system is facing its own “fiscal cliff” because it can’t afford to pay the benefits owed to all of the employees enrolled in the system, critics have called for reform.

The public doesn’t like the system because it’s a benefit that’s unheard of in the private sector, and furthermore, these double-dippers aren’t really retired in that they’ve “ceased to work.”

But in places like Amherst, elected officials laud the practice of hiring retirees for some of the town’s top jobs, saying they get qualified candidates at a reduced cost, since they don’t have to pay the benefits that are already being paid by the state.

What’s happening in Nashua is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a sign that someone is chipping away at the problem.

The policy change would force retirees to wait a year before applying for a part-time job in the district, but it also allows the superintendent to seek a waiver in case there is a critical need to fill a position and a retiree is the best option.

One thing is certain: The policy would put a crimp in the practice of someone retiring from the school district and returning the next year to take a part-time job.

“That effectively puts many people who have just left the district out of any potential hiring you may be doing,” Superintendent Mark Conrad said. “I think the concern in some instances is someone retires and immediately comes into a position at the beginning of the next year. This would eliminate that.”

So how big of an issue is this in Nashua? There are fewer than 30 retirees working part-time jobs in the district. These employees made about $1 million in combined salary last year, while collecting about $700,000 in pension payments from the state retirement system.

Some of the top earners are bringing home $100,000 or more. The top double-dipper in the Nashua School District is former principal Bruce Geer, who retired in 2008 and now works as a part-time teacher. He makes $57,933.00 in salary and $56,422.92 in pension. Geer may be the best person for the job, but the policy would allow the board to slow down and consider all of the factors.

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