AUGUSTA — Teachers and state workers are being hurt by restrictions meant to crack down on double dipping, the practice of collecting retirement benefits while getting a full paycheck, a southern Maine lawmaker said Tuesday.

Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, is sponsoring a new bill meant to limit the restrictions to superintendents and principals, not classroom teachers and state workers.

“We completely missed our target,” she said, referring to limits put in place last year as part of the two-year state budget.

Those limits sought to reduce the number of double dippers, estimated to be in the hundreds, who some say retire on a Friday and return to work the following Monday newly eligible to collect both their retirement checks and a paycheck.

The restrictions don’t allow retired teachers and state workers to get health insurance, and their pay is limited to 75 percent of the compensation established for the position. Also, the restrictions limit rehired employees to five years of service.

Hill said while lawmakers were targeting superintendents and other highly paid administrators, the law had the unintended effect of hurting teachers and state workers. Her bill, L.D. 1632, specifically states that the restrictions are to apply to superintendents and principals, not state employees or teachers.

Chris Galgay, president of the Maine Education Association, said the current restrictions prevent local school boards from hiring back good teachers and teacher assistants.

“A teacher or an ed tech may retire but then find a spouse is ill, has passed away, or another tragedy may occur,” he said. “Our members find it unfortunate that you have placed restrictions on teachers and ed techs that may need to return to teaching out of personal or financial necessity.”

The changes in the budget were part of a larger package meant to reduce the long-term costs associated with retiree pensions and health insurance benefits. Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Sawin Millett said he thinks it’s a mistake to get rid of the provisions meant to prevent double dipping.

He said there have been instances through the years in which someone would retire on a Friday and return to work on a Monday so they could collect both retirement pay and a salary.

“I continue to feel it is a significant concern,” he said.

In addition, he said older workers are “clogging the career ladder” by working longer, which prevents young talent from advancing. He said statistics provided by the Maine Public Employees Retirement System show hundreds of people are receiving full retirement and full pay.

“It kind of becomes not just anecdotal when you look at the numbers,” he said.

Those statistics were not immediately available Tuesday afternoon to MaineToday Media. The Appropriations Committee, which held the public hearing Tuesday, has not set a date for a work session on the bill.

Falmouth High School mathematics teacher Bob McCully, who marked 50 years in the profession this year, said it’s unfair to punish high performers who may want to return after they’ve made the decision to retire.

In particular, he said, reducing wages to 75 percent of what others are making is a disincentive.

“I would never give 75 percent of what is needed, or 75 percent of what I am capable of, nor would a teacher with any self-respect,” he said. “I shouldn’t expect to be paid 75 percent of what a position is worth.”

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

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