Education Lab

Clovis Unified workers part ways after buyouts

As the last day of school wound down Friday in Clovis Unified, 164 long-term employees were saying their final farewells.

This is the largest number of employees to retire at the same time from Clovis Unified in its 50-year history, and they represent 3,700 years of district experience, officials said.

And because they all chose to take a retirement buyout, the district didn't have to resort to layoffs, upholding a long-standing commitment to employees.

"We will do everything in our power not to lay somebody off," said Kelly Avants, a district spokeswoman.

Many of the retirees started working for the district when its only high school -- Clovis High, at Barstow and Fowler avenues -- still seemed a bit out of the way.

The same school is losing 287 years of staff experience due to the retirements, more than any other in the district.

"Leaving here is very bittersweet," said Candy Lane, who taught child development in Clovis Unified for 36 years, including 30 years at Clovis High.

She had planned to stay for a couple more years, but the district's retirement incentive made it attractive for Lane, 61, to leave now.

Through teaching, she said, she has met hundreds of people. Many, she said, still greet her when she is running errands.

"I was out with my granddaughter and she said 'Grandma, I think you're famous,' " Lane said.

The retirements will save the district $6.35 million next year. The employees still on the payroll will return in the fall to a salary cut and furloughs that will lower their pay by about 3.5%.

The district's revenue shortfall for the 2010-11 year, which begins July 1, was $28 million earlier this year.

Salary cuts and retirements closed the gap by about $12.5 million. A series of other cutbacks, plus use of reserves, closed the rest of the gap.

Under the plan, teachers will receive a bonus of 60% of their most recent salary. The bonus would be paid over five years or the employee's lifetime. Other employees who take the buyout will receive a bonus equalling 45% of their most recent pay.

The district offered a similar retirement incentive during the 2007-08 school year, and 156 employees took the buyout. Early retirement also was offered during the 2003-04 school year. In a typical year, 50 to 60 employees retire.

New, lower-paid employees will take the jobs of some retirees, and other positions will not be filled, leaving existing employees to pick up the work.

With the tightening budget, the district offered an unprecedented second round of retirement incentives to eligible retirees. The first round was offered last October and had 115 takers.

Jim Lung, 60, who spent a majority of his 37-year career teaching at Clovis High, said he opted to retire now, even though he had planned to teach history one more year, because his retirement would help someone else.

"It was the right time for me and I am happy it saved somebody's job, too," said Lung.

The 2010 graduating class yearbook was dedicated to Lung, and even students he didn't teach came to visit during his final days of work.

"A young man came in and told me his mom said to stop in and say good-bye," Lung said.

More than 100 years of experience will depart from Cedarwood Elementary, where Principal Colin Hintergardt, office manager Millie Severson and special education teacher Diane Brillhart are leaving.

Hintergardt, 58, who is retiring after 35 years, is a product of Clovis schools.

His Little League coach was Floyd "Doc" Buchanan, the longtime district superintendent and namesake of Buchanan High.

Hintergardt estimates he has had 50 sets of parents and their children pass through his schools during his career. He has even hired former students as teachers.

His office holds boxes that contain, by his estimates, more than 1,000 letters from former students. The letters will go home with him.

In his final days at school, he said, his memories were drawn to the first days of school, when teary-eyed moms brought their children to a kindergarten teacher and took pictures to commemorate the day.

"It's the brand-new shoes that don't fit, parents taking pictures, it's a very special time for us, too," he said.

It's those first days of schools, Hintergardt said, that he will miss the most.