San Diego Unified offered its veteran employees a golden handshake last summer: If they left the school district they could get paid one year of their salary. More than 1,000 workers took the deal.
Replacing its most expensive, experienced workers with newer ones — or not replacing them at all — was projected to save the school system more than $41 million last year and spared San Diego Unified from layoffs as it faced a $93 million deficit.
It was a gentler way of thinning its ranks than layoffs, which involuntarily jettison the least experienced, least expensive employees.
But the school district also suffered a brain drain when those veteran employees left. It lost seasoned workers such as Karen Bachofer, who oversaw school research and evaluation and had worked for San Diego Unified for nearly two dozen years.
The school district quickly rehired Bachofer to complete a project that was unfinished when she left, reviewing whether high school classes met college admissions requirements. Bachofer earned more than $10,000 to finish up the work. Meanwhile, she was still being paid for having left the school district and will ultimately be paid nearly $134,000 for having done so.
Bachofer isn’t rare: More than one out of every three employees who took the golden handshake came back and did more work. They range from school clerks and cafeteria workers to principals and department directors. Some only worked briefly; others stayed for months. It is a practice that is seldom tracked and that, if left unchecked, can chip away at the savings from the buyouts.