KEENE — More than a dozen teachers who took early retirement this year are getting their pensions shortchanged by the district’s delay in paying stipends, according to a union complaint.
According to the complaint filed by Keene Education Association attorney Esther Kane Dickinson, the teachers are losing out on money for their pension plans because the district is delaying payment of the early retirement stipend by up to six months. This is due to a change the teacher’s union claims the district tried to hide. The complaint, filed with the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board, claims the issue could impact dozens more teachers.
“In fact, prior to the information request, the Association was not aware that potentially 57 employees have suffered financial loss due to the District’s unilateral change to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement,” Dickinson wrote.
The district issued a statement on Thursday denying it has acted in bad faith in the matter.
“The collective bargaining agreement does not mandate teachers receive early retirement payments on a certain date, and limits employees from receiving additional compensation as alleged by the Association. In addition, the District’s practice is consistent with state law and in compliance with the New Hampshire Retirement System,” Superintendent Robert Malay said in the statement.
The issue came to light when two teachers, Randall Burns and Robert Scott Hyde, were approved for early retirement in December of 2018, according to the complaint. The two teachers were set to have their retirements take effect on July 1, 2019.
Teachers who reach early retirement are entitled under the union contract to an early retirement stipend, according to the complaint. Hyde and Burns learned that that they would not get their stipend from the district until November 2019. This delay represents a change from the collective bargaining agreement, according to the complaint.
Under New Hampshire retirement regulations for public employees, payments made after 120 days from the retirement date do not count toward earnable compensation for the pension plan. This means that the district’s delay in paying the early retirement stipend keeps that stipend payment from counting as compensation for the pension, according to the complaint.
“This means their NHRS monthly pension benefit will be less than they are entitled to and will cause significant financial loss over their lifetimes,” Dickinson writes.
Delaying the payments represents a change of the contract, according to the complaint, and a change that the district never negotiated with the teachers. Dickinson writes that at least 12 other teachers who retired effective July 1 would have their stipends delayed, and a total of 57 teachers have been impacted before it was brought to light by Hyde and Burns.
The case is scheduled for a Dec. 16 arbitration hearing in Concord.