After 28 years of teaching special education at Eldorado High School, Sally Magnuson saw her income almost double to about $115,000.
"I retired at 10 o'clock and they hired me back at 10:15 to the same job with my full salary and my full pension," she said.
Two years of earning an administrator-level income did not provoke much resentment from her peers, she said.
"Most of the teachers said, 'You're getting paid what we should have been paid all along.' They were like, 'You go, girl.'"
The Clark County School District has relied on "double dippers" such as Magnuson to fill "critical labor shortage" areas in math, science and special education, but now the 233 teachers are facing the prospect of going back to a single scoop.
If retirees continue to work next year, they might not be eligible to continue to draw their pension because of circumstances involving the bad economy and state budget cuts.
The term "double dippers" was popularized by an episode of the TV sitcom "Seinfeld" and carries the hoggish connotation of putting a potato chip back in the dip.
Rehiring retirees in Nevada has been premised on the scarcity of qualified personnel for available jobs. However, school district officials now think high unemployment might make it easier to recruit staff from around the country.
Keith Rheault, the state superintendent of K-12 education, has said it does not make sense to rehire retired employees when younger and qualified teachers are available.
Since the Legislature in 2001 passed a law allowing "double dipping," the cost of paying retirement benefits to working retirees has been estimated at $55 million. While the law applies to all state and local government agencies, more than half, or 380, of all 661 rehired retirees have been employed by the Clark County School District since 2001.
The average rehired retiree works two additional years in retirement, according to state figures.
The retired employees can accumulate additional pension benefits by continuing to work. Dana Bilyeu, director of the Public Employees Retirement System, has said not having to pay pensions to retired workers would help the system control costs.
Clark County School District officials expect there might be some savings from hiring less experienced workers to replace the rehired retirees, but said they could not give an estimate because there are too many unknown factors.
Because of the current budget shortfall, projected at $140 million, the district might have to cut as many as 1,077 jobs. Displaced teachers and administrators could fill other teaching vacancies within the district.
By state law, the district is required to periodically re-evaluate its critical labor shortages. It has sent out 233 letters to the rehired retirees saying their positions might be no longer classified as "critical labor shortage" next year.
After the law was amended by the Legislature in 2009, the School Board, like all government agencies, was required to have public hearings before they could declare a critical labor shortage.
Government must justify a labor shortage with data that include the job turnover rate, the number of job openings compared to the number of qualified applicants, the length of time the job has been vacant, any special circumstances hampering hiring efforts, and a history on all efforts to recruit for the position.
Back in the population boom years, the district had trouble even filling elementary school jobs. It still has 26 elementary school teachers who retired and were rehired between 2002 and 2008, according to a list provided by the district. It was not immediately known how they were able keep their classroom jobs since their jobs are no longer classified as critical labor shortages.
The district has not rehired any new district retirees since 2008.
Because of the uncertainties concerning the budget and the economy, school officials are leaving open the possibility of having to declare critical labor shortages before the new school year starts in August.
"There are so many variables involved; you have to wait and see," said Michael Rodriguez, a district spokesman.
Magnuson is not counting on special education getting reclassified as a critical labor shortage.
"It sounds real strong that they're not going to," she said.
Magnuson said she had wanted to work a few more years.
"It's a great school. I really like my students, colleagues. I'm only 57. I got a lot of experience. I was mentoring a new teacher this year, but it's, 'Nice knowing you.' So I'm a little disappointed."
Magnuson said that because she would be forced to choose between her salary and pension, the difference of about $10,000 is not enough to keep her teaching.
Magnuson feels unfairly penalized, since she knows many teachers who have retired from the military or the private sector and who are drawing their retirement benefits as well.
The district's policy change only affects workers who have retired from the district and who are on the state pension plan, the Public Employees Retirement System. Clark County teachers who have retired from other states would not be affected.
Paula Patterson, a social studies and English teacher at Eldorado High School, thinks "double dippers" is a misnomer, since the retiree is not "double dipping" from the same source. One is the state retirement system. The other is a district salary.
"The real sad thing is that Sally Magnuson ... is one of the best teachers I have ever seen," Patterson said. "She's creative and enthusiastic. We talk about merit pay for teachers. A teacher who doesn't cost the district any more (money) is being put out to pasture. ... That to me is the real heartbreak of it all."
Contact reporter James Haug at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-374-7917.