Six retired San Diego educators out-earn U.S Secretary of Education

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San Diego’s pension problems are nothing new, and lawmakers continue to search for answers on how it got into its mess and how to get out of it. The state’s pension system for retired educators has its own version of the problem, with an estimated $40.5 billion budget deficit over the next 34 years.

The San Diego Union-Tribune took a survey of pension payments made by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System to some of the local top administrators, looking for insight into how the fund pays its retirees, and found examples of outsized pensions paid to recent retirees.

Despite the fund’s financial woes, the amount paid to some of the retirees seem excessively generous.

The survey looked at educators’ pensions from the county’s 42 school districts, five community colleges and other educational institutions. Surprisingly, six of the county’s retired executives are collecting more that U.S Education Secretary Anne Duncan’s 2009 base salary of $197,000.

The county’s six highest paid educators are:

  1. Rudy Castruita, retired in 2006 as superintendent to the San Diego County Office of Education, receives $281,034 or 107 percent of his salary.
  2. Kenneth Noonan, retired in 2007 as superintendent of the Oceanside Unified School District, receives $249,011 or 92 percent of his salary.
  3. Larry Maw, retired in 2005 as superintendent of the San Marcos Unified School District, receives $229,326 or 98 percent of his salary.
  4. Ralph Cowles, retired as superintendent of Vista Unified School District in 2006, receives $223,632 or 97 percent of his salary.
  5. Sherrill Amador, retired in 2004 as president of Palomar Community College, receives $218,511 or 113 percent of her salary.
  6. Warren Hogarth, retired in 2003 as superintendent of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, receives $216,348 or 105 percent of his salary.

Included among the most highly-paid San Diego county retirees are 254 teachers and administrators who are paid over $100,000 per year, in addition to health care benefits.

The survey also found that the average retired teacher collects $40,633 per year, amounting to 58 percent of their final salary. That is more than the average San Diego city worker who receives $37,442 but far less than the $67,428 paid to firefighters or $62,098 for police officers.

Educators generally pay 8 percent of their salaries towards retirement, and taxpayers contribute another 8.25 percent from local districts and another 2 percent from the state.

Using the most highly paid retirees as an example, over the course of a thirty-year career, assuming an average salary of $100,000, the most that would have collectively been paid in is roughly at 18 per cent per year is $540,000. Yet based on a 25-year retirement payout for retirees and widows, the total pension benefits could likely exceed $5 million. Predictably, the math doesn’t add up.

It’s a good formula for keeping retirees happy, but with cutbacks and layoffs for currently employed teachers, an overhaul of the existing system is long overdue.

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