GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — For over 3 decades, East Kentwood High teacher Stephanie Stephenson has split her time between the classroom and the high school track.
“It’s been a phenomenal experience. I’ve been at Kentwood Public Schools my whole career. And my heart and soul walks these halls,” said Stephenson.
In the spring, her plan is to retire from teaching but continue as a part-time track and cross country coach.
“Because I want to stay connected to the kids. We have such amazing kids here at East Kentwood High School. I don’t want to lose that,” said Stephenson.
But that may not happen.
A new state law requires a retiring teacher to wait nine months before returning to the classroom, whether as a sub or in another capacity, all while still collecting their pension.
Prior to the law, a teacher only had to wait 30 days before coming back to the school in another capacity, but could only collect less than 30% of what they were making at the time of retirement, along with their pension.
The new law, which legislators hope would help alleviate teacher shortages, keeps the nine-month waiting period but does away with the less than 30% rule.
It’s also delayed the return of some coaches to the sidelines.
“They can’t hold the position for us. So there’s a good possibility that after I retire in June I won’t be able to coach cross country in the fall. I won’t be able to coach track in the spring,” said Stephenson.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association is crying foul over the law when it comes to coaches.
“In every meeting we had, they told us right up front, ‘well coaches weren’t even a thought when this legislation moved forward.’” said MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl.
He said dozens of teams this fall that have been impacted.
“It puts school districts in just a terrible spot. And the timing of this new law could not have been any worse, because the No. 1 thing that everybody needs right now is people,” said Uyl.
Even the author of the bill which lead to PA 184 recognizances the unintended consequence.
“No one thought about coaches and how this would impact them,” said State Representative Steven Johnson of Wayland.
Johnson said talks are underway to come up with a solution.
One problem he sees with changing the rules for coaches is their teacher pensions. Excluding them from current rules would allow them to automatically double dip, retiring one day and coach the next, collecting both their pension and full coaches pay.
“We have to make sure, however we do this, we’re protecting the taxpayers. We’re protecting the pension fund. It’s underfunded as it is,” said Johnson.
“Now, what’s going on with coaches, that’s not going to make or break the systems. So I think we’re willing to have discussions. But we do have to keep in mind that pension fund.”
But Uyl says look at the numbers and the motives of teachers wanting to get back to the bench.
“Someone who is retired and collecting a pension coming back to coach a high school or middle school team, making $2,400 for example, isn’t somebody who is doing that to double dip,” said Uyl.