It’s time to stop using the term “double-dip” when we talk about retired teachers or other public employees who come back to work while drawing their pensions.

It’s insulting, misleading and just plain wrong. It implies that employees are exploiting the system when they are often doing their employer a huge favor.

Putting this false notion to rest was behind a law passed by the Legislature this year. It scaled back restrictions that were keeping retired teachers from helping their school districts fill vacancies in a tight labor market. As a result, more retired teachers could be back in classrooms this fall, which would be a relief to administrators.

The notion of double dipping comes from the idea that people who receive both a paycheck and a pension check must be doing something wrong. It might look like they are getting paid twice, but they are not.

When a public employee becomes eligible for retirement, they can start collecting their pension. Paid out of a fund that the employee contributed to every pay period throughout their career, it’s an earned benefit, not a social program. A teacher who retires and collects a pension is free to look for other work.

If a retired teacher were to take a job at a grocery store or a landscaping company, no one would accuse them of double-dipping when they got paid. But if they go back to work at their old job — the one for which they may have advanced training and decades of experience — they are accused of cheating.

Rather than ripping the system off, they may be doing it a favor. A retired employee who is collecting a pension is no longer paying into the pension plan, and neither is that person’s employer.

From the perspective of the school district, this is not “double dipping” – it’s not even “single-dipping.” A school district that keeps a retired teacher on board for a few extra years is spending less than it would spend to hire a new teacher to fill that slot.

On its own, this practice is no solution to the looming teacher shortage that retirements are projected to create in the near future. A third of Maine teachers are 55 and older, and many of them will not want to extend their careers when they hit retirement age. Recruiting new teachers and creating a direct path to certification for people who might be interested in joining the profession after a career in another field is also necessary.

But during the transition, schools should not be prohibited from hiring recently retired teachers. And anyone who wants to stay in or return to the classroom should not be penalized or accused of gaming the system.

There is no “double dip,” and the sooner we stop using the term, the better.

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