LAND O'LAKES — Layoffs remain a last resort for Pasco County school district leaders as they look for ways to slash spending by as much as $45 million.
They wouldn't mind if some employees decided to leave on their own, though.
"We may need as many as 50 jobs," superintendent Heather Fiorentino told the School Board on Thursday during a two-hour workshop about whether to expand the district's early retirement incentives. "If you can make someone happy to leave, if you will, and they were getting ready to leave … that's savings alone."
Board members reviewed three possible offers that they might put forth as a way to draw some people into retirement who otherwise might wait for their full state pension to kick in.
One idea focused on employees between 62 and 65 who are mainly keeping their jobs for health insurance: Offer them $425 a month toward health benefits until they qualify for Medicare.
Another idea targeted workers who have yet to qualify for full state retirement benefits: Pay them the difference until they can get their full amount.
The concepts, which still require more fleshing out, could save a projected $970,000 to $10 million, depending on how they play out once offered.
Board members were intrigued. They told Fiorentino to keep working with the district's retirement plan actuary and the United School Employees of Pasco, which would have to agree to any offer.
"We do have to investigate," vice chairman Allen Altman said.
Pasco has included an early retirement plan in its contract for more than two decades. But it's been used sporadically and little noticed.
Some district employees who were unaware of the plan spurred the administration and board to revisit the incentives. They sent letters and e-mails suggesting they might take advantage if the deal was right.
Actuary Chuck Carr said he's been working on ideas since January. But it's up to the board to set the parameters.
Some rules are not negotiable, though.
The board may not discriminate against broad groups. It also cannot coerce people to participate.
Once the offer is on the table, everyone who is eligible can take it or leave it.
The aim, Carr said, is to strike a balance that is attractive to some but doesn't cause everyone to abandon ship.
"If enough people accept, they are happy, the school district has saved money and nobody has been forced to do anything," he said.
"That's the goal."
Fiorentino said she hoped to have even more details available for the board's budget workshop on Tuesday. If the board adopted some sort of retirement incentive as early as the summer, it could help the district balance its fiscal 2010 budget year, which begins in July.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.