NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - Four North Salem teachers with nearly 100 years of combined teaching experienced are slated to retire in the next two years. 

The school board accepted the retirements on Monday, May 4, though did not identify all the teachers who put in their notice on the agenda for that meeting. 

In retirement letters obtained through a FOIL request by the North Salem News, the teachers all said they were doing so to take advantage of the school’s early retirement incentive which mandated they had to put in notice by May 1. 

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The incentive offers teachers leaving in 2020 an additional $35,000 in their 403(b) Tax Sheltered Annuity accounts and an additional $25,000 for leaving in 2021.

“Without the incentive, we likely would not know about their intention to retire until the end of June,” said Superintendent Ken Freeston.

The school board held a special meeting on May 4 to accept the retirements; however, three of the four teachers’ names were not disclosed at their request.

“We have always offered retirees the choice. Their names become public in June. This practice is approved by our board counsel,” Freeston said. “Some do not want their students and parents to know until the end of the year; especially in this case, two are retiring in 2021.”

One of the teachers retiring July 1, 2021, asked not to be identified to prevent anyone from becoming upset about it during the upcoming school year. The teacher wanted to ensure that nothing takes away from the students’ learning experience during an already stressful time due to the coronavirus pandemic. That teacher has been with the district for more than 20 years.

Special education teacher Barbara Paesano, who has spent 28 years in the North Salem School District, did not respond to questions from North Salem News but said in her retirement letter to the district that it was a pleasure to work there. Her last day will be Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

“It has been a pleasure serving the North Salem District and an added honor to have worked alongside such caring, dedicated, and supportive colleagues,” Paesano said. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve those students in my home district who are challenged with learning difficulties. Working with them has been a true privilege, and I will especially cherish those memories.”

Physical education teacher and North Salem Teachers Union president Henry Sassone has been with the district for 35 years.

He said in a phone interview that he asked Freeston to keep his name confidential for two weeks so he would have the opportunity to tell his coworkers and others. He also will retire on Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

“Reflecting on my 35 year career at North Salem, I am profoundly appreciative of the lifelong relationships developed with students, teachers, staff and community members,” Sassone said in his letter. “I have enjoyed the unique opportunity to serve the North Salem School District as a physical education teacher, health teacher, J.V. soccer coach, modified soccer coach, modified baseball coach, varsity tennis coach, varsity basketball coach, athletic director, department chair physical education,

North Salem teachers’ association chief negotiator and union president. I will cherish the memories of teaching, coaching and leading four generations of North Salem students and athletes. I am proud of the many accolades our physical education and athletic program attained on the Section, State and National levels. Our athletic program was considered the gold standard for section one. I am most proud of the successes attained by my former students and athletes in their personal and professional lives. It was a privilege as well as a labor of love to lead and serve the students, athletes and stakeholders of the North Salem community.”

Sassone was North Salem’s athletic director until last year, when the district decided not to reappoint him to the position. Dozens of former students came to school board meetings to protest the decision and at least two coaches stepped down over the move. 

Math teacher Deborah Feliciano, who has been with the district since 1993 and will be leaving the district Thursday, July 1, 2021, said she is retiring to become a full-time grandmother. According to Feliciano, leaving in 2021 qualifies her for a $25,000 retirement incentive from the district which will be received in two payments.

“It has been a pleasure serving the North Salem Central School District and an added honor working with such dedicated colleagues, wonderful students, and supportive parents and guardians,” Feliciano said. “My time at North Salem has been incredibly rewarding and I take with it many happy memories.”

Freeston said that the early retirement incentive offered by the district was not to free up room in this year’s budget, stating that the savings are minimal.

“Retirees are still on our health insurance plan, as are the new hires. That adds about $50,000 to the budget, so the new hires’ combined salaries would have to be $50,000 less,” Freeston said. “In some years we have not replaced the retiring teacher; then we have big savings. That is not possible with these retirees.”

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