Illinois school superintendents get rich on pension benefits by fleeing state

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Retired school superintendents are making a mad dash for the border, that is, the state border, in order to effectively double up on their annual compensation.

And that’s exactly what’s happening in Illinois, and likely other states, according to an investigative report in the Chicago Tribune. In fact, while educators are moving out of state to get around pension payment rules, superintendents from other states are moving into Illinois, presumably to fill in for the jobs left by those taking advantage of the loophole.

Illinois state laws are in place to prevent its public school superintendents from retiring and triggering outsized pensions, and then taking another superintendent job to collect two checks from the state. Unfortunately, when politicians crafted the law, they forgot to limit retirees’ pensions if a superintendant took a job across state lines.

In many cases, those moving into Illinois are also retirees, hiding from their state while cashing pension checks and continuing to earn large salaries.

Even though the state’s pension system is in serious financial straits, there’s nothing much that can be done under existing rules, since it’s all legal.

“We have allowed a system to develop that is grossly underfunded and that has very generous benefits,” said Laurence Msall, president of Chicago’s Civic Federation, a nonprofit government research organization. “To draw a pension from the state … and then immediately go get another job as a superintendent or in another teaching capacity — they’re really not retiring.”

Some examples found by Tribune investigators include:

  • Retired superintendent of New Trier Township High School District Hank Bangser, collects a $261,681 state pension, while working as a school superintendent in Southern California’s Ojai Unified School District making $170,000. His total annual compensation: $431,681.
  • Retired Wheaton Superintendent Gary Catalani receives a $237,195 Illinois state pension while earning another $195,000 from the Scottsdale, Arizona school district. His total annual compensation: $432,195.
  • Retired South Cook superintendent Eric King receives a $166,608 Illinois state pension and earns another $168,343 salary as the superintendent of the Muncie, Indiana school district, for a total of $334,951.
  • Retired East Maine Superintendent Kathleen Williams receives a $177,711 Illinois state pension, and earns another $156,000 in Wausau, Wisconsin. Her total compensation: $333,711.
  • Retired Superintendent Rebecca van der Bogert collects a $169,050 Illinois state pension, another $21,974 from Massachusetts, and currently works in Florida as the head of the Palm Beach Day Academy.
  • Retired superintendent of the Oak Park and River Forest Districts Attila Weniger, receives an Illinois state pension of $180,302 while earning another $149,500 as the superintendent of the Stevens Point Area Public Schools District in Wisconsin, for a total of $329,802.

The is no system in place that monitors how many retired school superintendents are crossing state lines to work while they are “retired,” and there is no system in the state that checks to make sure that the superintendents are not working another job in Illinois.

Tribune reporters tracked down retired superintendents through Internet searches, newspaper articles and public records, since state records do not track the whereabouts or employment of the retirees.

However, data at the Illinois State Board of Education does show dozens of superintendents moving into its system with 20 or more years of employment at out-of-state districts, but does not show how many are receiving pensions.

All of the superintendents who were contacted by the Tribune defended their employment while collecting retirement benefits, and some were angry that the issue was being raised.

“Somebody who retires can go to another state and work. To me, that is the story, and that’s what I’ve done,” Weninger said.

“I worked uninterrupted for 36 years and obviously made all the (retirement) contributions, as did all of my colleagues,” Bangser, 61, said. “The point is that, I think like anything else, you operate under the rules, restrictions and guidelines of whatever is in place at the time.”

Others see it differently.

One critic, Jeremy Gold, a New York-based actuary and pension expert, called earning multiple government incomes “indicative of sloppy governance and a cavalier attitude by those ‘public servants’ who exploit these loopholes selfishly.”

Gold said “Illinois is the poster child for pension abuses. One of my colleagues calls this child because or children must pay for fiscal irresponsibility.”

“We have allowed a system to develop that is grossly underfunded and that has very generous benefits,” said Laurence Msall, president of Chicago’s Civic Federation, a nonprofit government research organization. “To draw a pension from the state … and then immediately go get another job as a superintendent or in another teaching capacity — they’re really not retiring.”

Another issue that arises when school superintendents play musical chairs, by retiring for the pension and then taking a position elsewhere, is that they deprive employment opportunities for younger administrators moving up in the system, potentially adding to unemployment.

The Chicago Tribune

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Comments (8)
  1. Albatwitcher says:

    Looks like they like the Steve Miller Band….go on take the money and run!
    Pension funds are a major cause of city, county and state budget shortfalls. And this is one reason.

  2. James Dion says:

    This is simply stunning. How can a superintendent of a small school district make this kind of salary?? And then have a retirement benefit that is greater than the mayor of Chicago’s salary? Do we realize that we are on the hook for over six million dollars for each of these pigs. The only solution is for the State of Illinois to declare bankruptcy and negate all the pensions. Sorry, but I am tired of paying for someone who does not deserve it in any way, shape or form.

  3. givebacktaxes says:

    Oak Park elementary district has the same. Paying a superintendent who already retired.

  4. Violet216 says:

    A few comments:
    1. Other professionals have been doing this exact thing for years and years; example: career military people retire after 20 or more years, receive a pension, and look for other jobs in the private sector. They are, therefore, collecting two “salaries”, at least one of which is funded by tax-payer dollars.
    2. Even though these public servants are collecting pensions, they are not getting “free” money, i.e., totally paid by tax dollars… they contributed part of their salaries each and every payday to this pension fund, just like people in the private sector. Most of these “pensions” are, in reality, a type of annuity that is funded by the pension fund and its contributors, and are, BTW, taxable!!!
    3. I don’t know about the actual dollar figures quoted, but they seem a bit high… just how accurate are they? I wonder if the author of the article only published really large pensions, to create controversy. Also, from one administrator quoted, that person had worked in the field for over 36 years–quite a long time, and one would expect the corresponding salary and pension to be high. And if that person still had the energy to take a similar job in his 60s, and do it well, then why not get compensated for it? (Maybe they found out just how boring retirement could be… should they have signed up to be a Wal-Mart greeter???)
    4. I don’t know anything about the Chicago Tribune or what kind of reputation it has, but this article seems to promote sensationalism, not even-handed investigative journalism. The article’s author seemed more interested in reporting peoples’ outrage, thus agitating for more controversy, than in publishing more fully accurate numbers.

  5. T Sagert says:

    @Violet: Not in Wisconsin. They pay 0% tpwards their pensions. Their spouses get it if they die until THEY die. They get free health care until they die, mostly from property taxes (You Illinois residents have no IDEA how much WI residents pay in property taxes. Even if taxes go “down”, the city merely raises your assessed value, even if houses near you sell for HALF the value). They can also never be fired unless they have sex with a student. Kids in 12th grade cant even read in Milwaukee Public Schools, yet they have “C” averages or higher. Hmm…

    Dont try and reason that they arent getting anything because they pay taxes…unless they are taxed at 100% You doubt an article because it doesnt list sources? Have you heard of this new thing called the “INTERNET”? Maybe you can go into a library and ask a six-year-old how to find things on “The Google Thing”.

    As for your comments: #1, this should be stopped too, but often they just take the same job they retired from as a civilian employee. END IT. #2, Yes, they are. These pensions are underfunded, or not funded AT ALL, and in Wisconsin, had democratic ex-governor doyle raid this as well as the state transportation fund to pay for other social welfare programs. Teachers and state employees of WI pay ZERO towards the 11.5% funding of their pensions, and Milwaukee Public Schools snuck in a “supplementary pension”. Did you know that city employees also get a lump-sum payout in addition to their pensions; an accountant for Milw Police Dept got 850k…yes 850,000 on his retirement, PLUS his pension. In just a few years he will have made more in retirement than he ever did working. #3, use “The Google Thing” #4 I agree. You know nothing about the Tribune or what reputation they have. They are as far left as you can get in any midwestern newspaper, and for them to publish this makes my head spin.

    Stop trolling.

  6. T Sagert says:

    See what any Wisconsin teacher makes in salary and benefits here http://www.postcrescent.com/article/99999999/APC0110/80221166

  7. […] a $166,608 Illinois state pension and earns another $168,343 salary as the superintendent of the Muncie, Indiana school district, for a total of $334,951. Chicago Tribune […]

  8. […] a $166,608 Illinois state pension and earns another $168,343 salary as the superintendent of the Muncie, Indiana school district, for a total of $334,951. Chicago Tribune […]

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