DOUBLE-DIPS ADD UP TO MILLIONS FOR 45 ‘RETIRED’ SCHOOL CHIEFS Investigative Report by Mark Lagerkvist

Posted on February 28, 2013

NJ-doubledip-statesite

Thomas Butler can take you to school on the study of double-dipping in New Jersey.

Since he retired as a superintendent 18 years ago, Butler has held 23 jobs as an interim or temporary chief at public school districts in eight different counties. While continuing to draw six-figure salaries from taxpayers, he has pocketed $1.2 million in state pension checks.

Thomas Butler

Thomas Butler

At present, Butler collects $212,340 a year – $135,000 in salary as interim superintendent of Mendham Borough schools in Morris County, plus a $77,340 pension as a retired educator. He says he saves the school district money as it searches for a permanent head.

“I’m in this just to help the district out,” said Butler.

However, the brunt of double-dipping falls on the state’s troubled pension system, which faces a shortfall of nearly $42 billion.

A New Jersey Watchdog investigation found 45 retirees have worked as interim superintendents so far during the current school year. They use a loophole in pension law to collectively receive more than $4 million annually from the state Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund in addition to executive pay from districts.

The loophole intends to help districts fill key openings with experienced administrators as they search for permanent replacements. But some districts wind up with a revolving door of well-connected temporary chiefs who get two public paychecks, not just one.

Pension rules allow retired administrators to work for up to two years in an interim positions without losing any benefits. There is no limit on the number of times they hold interim jobs.

“There are several people out there who have done this for a number of years. It raises great questions that ought to be discussed,” Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, told NBC 4 New York’s Chris Glorioso.

NBC 4 New York partnered with New Jersey Watchdog to produce this investigative report.

In Bergen County, Karen Lake gets $108,230 a year for working part-time – three days a week – as interim superintendent of Mahwah schools. She also collects $131,964 from her pension as retired superintendent of Hillsborough Twp. schools in Somerset County.

Karen Lake

Karen Lake

“It’s the way the system is set up,” said Lake. “I took advantage of it.”

And she’s not the only one.

“There are a lot of superintendents who are retiring and coming back to the work force,” said longtime South Jersey school chief Ralph E. Ross Sr.

Ralph Ross

Ralph Ross

Ross collected $292,272 last year – $149,256 in salary as interim superintendent of Deptford Township schools in Gloucester County, plus $143,016 from pension as retired superintendent of Black Horse Pike Regional schools in Camden County.

 

“Of course, people are going to call it double-dipping because you get paid twice,” said Ross. “I don’t apologize for any money I get. My services are worthwhile and appreciated.”

When Ross hit the two-year mark at Deptford, the 72-year-old retiree didn’t have to go far for his next post-retirement job. Ten miles away, the Monroe Township school district quickly hired him as its $136,500 interim assistant superintendent.

But not all retired school chiefs are content or comfortable with the double-dipping or interim employment status.

Gary Loudenslager

Gary Loudenslager

 

Gary Loudenslager, Ross’ replacement in Deptford, has decided to “unretire.” He is taking a job as the schools’ permanent superintendent, which will require him to give up $88,320 per annum in state pension checks for at least the next five years.

“I am doing this because I want to,” said Loudenslager. “I wasn’t ready to retire. I don’t want to be an interim; I want to be the superintendent.”

 

Loundenslager retired as principal of Deptford Township High School in June 2011. Six months later, he returned as an interim principal. When Ross left, the board hired him as interim superintendent in January at a $122,000 salary.

“I did become an interim because the financial part was very good,” said Loudenslager.

Last week, the school board agreed to remove “interim” from Loudenslager’s title. While his salary has not been set, he could make up to $167,500 a year. Even if he gets the maximum, he knows his total income will go down.

When Loudenslager finally retires for good, he’ll receive a second pension. He estimates the additional benefit will be less than $15,000 a year.

Double-dipping has enabled the 45 retirees and undoubtedly others to sidestep a salary cap ordered by Gov. Chris Christie in 2010. Declaring many superintendents in local districts were overpaid, Christie set a limit on maximum pay that ranges from $177,500 a year in the largest districts to $120,000 a year in smaller districts.

The cap has caused an exodus of superintendents from New Jersey and increased the demand for interim chiefs, said Bozza, who heads a group of 1,000 New Jersey school administrators.

“These men and women who are serving in interim positions are really performing a great service,” said Bozza. “But I don’t think it should be prolonged…I think we should be looking very closely at that.”

Perhaps no one has passed through the revolving school doors as frequently as Thomas Butler.

At age 56, Butler retired in 1994 as superintendent of Chester Township schools. According to his resume, Butler has since worked as interim superintendent in the following 22 districts:

  • Burlington County: Springfield Township schools
  • Essex County: Highland Park, Hopewell Valley Regional and Livingston schools.
  • Hunterdon County: Delaware Valley schools.
  • Mercer County: East Windsor Regional, Lawrence Township and West Windsor-Plainsboro schools.
  • Morris County: Chester Township, Boonton Township, Denville, Long Hill Township and Wharton schools.
  • Middlesex County: Middlesex County Vocational/Technical and South Plainfield schools.
  • Passaic County: Manchester Regional schools.
  • Somerset County: Branchburg, Bridgewater-Raritan Regional, Montgomery Township, Somerset Hills, Somerville and Watchung Hills schools.

Butler’s 23rd post-retirement post is at Mendham Borough schools in Morris County. He was hired July 2012 on a contract that will last one year – or until the district finds a permanent chief. If the school board does not choose a new superintendent by then, it will have an option to extend Butler’s contract for another year.

“Excuse me, I’m not doing interviews,” Butler told Glorioso after a school board meeting, as he covered the reporter’s microphone with his hand.

Off-camera, Butler said he saves money for school districts because they don’t have to pay for his medical insurance or other employee benefits. However, state taxpayers are already paying for Butler’s health coverage through the pension system, not to mention the $1.2 million in retirement checks he’s collected during the past 18 years.

As of Feb. 1, 2013, there were 37 interim superintendents working in state public schools who were also drawing New Jersey pensions as retired school administrators. Here’s in New Jersey Watchdog’s list, sorted alphabetically by county:

 

COUNTY/DISTRICT FIRST LAST TOTAL SALARY PENSION
           
ATLANTIC          
Brigantine William Gussie

$193,520

$117,500

$76,020

Estell Manor Bruce Greenfield

$183,516

$117,120

$66,396

           
BERGEN          
Hackensack City Joseph Abate Jr

$270,372

$167,280

$103,092

Carlstadt-E Rutherford Gary Bowen

$255,896

$147,500

$108,396

Ramsey Bruce DeYoung

$243,884

$134,000

$109,884

Ridgefield Harry Groveman

$231,792

$148,632

$83,160

Haworth Maria Nuccetelli

$216,260

$85,964

$130,296

Glen Rock Raymond Albano

$211,472

$125,840

$85,632

Montvale Lawrence Hughes

$196,556

$116,000

$80,556

Palisades Park Twp Mark Hayes

$174,540

$72,000

$102,540

Mahwah Twp Karen Lake

$240,194

$108,230

$131,964

           
BURLINGTON          
Shamong Twp Dolores Szymanski

$193,980

$85,800

$108,180

Edgewater Park Twp Cheryl L. Smith

$177,860

$104,000

$73,860

           
CAMDEN          
Camden County Tech Timothy Bell

$240,564

$156,000

$84,564

Haddon Twp Cheryl Simone

$233,844

$121,200

$112,644

Camden Co Ed Svcs Edward Wasilewski

$226,332

$125,460

$100,872

Berlin Twp Leonard Fitts

$154,040

$98,000

$56,040

           
CUMBERLAND          
Fairfield Twp Mary Lou DeFrancisco

$201,444

$135,000

$66,444

           
GLOUCESTER          
Monroe Twp Ralph Ross

$279,516

$136,500

$143,016

Franklin Twp Barbara Morella

$214,640

$143,000

$71,640

Deptford Twp Gary Loudenslager

$210,320

$122,000

$88,320

Greenwich Twp Stephen Derkoski

$127,368

$54,000

$73,368

           
HUNTERDON          
Lebanon Borough Thomas O’Brien

$210,104

$125,000

$85,104

Tewksbury Twp James Gamble

$195,516

$135,000

$60,516

Hampton Boro Arthur DiBenedetto

$187,396

$104,500

$82,896

Bloomsbury Albert Purdy

$164,148

$81,600

$82,548

           
MIDDLESEX          
Old Bridge Twp Timothy Brennan

$252,740

$177,500

$75,240

           
MONMOUTH          
Manasquan Robert Mahon

$262,116

$157,500

$104,616

Shore & W Long Branch Renae LaPrete

$251,744

$147,500

$104,244

           
MORRIS          
Wharton & Mine Hill Dennis Mack

$251,264

$155,000

$96,264

Morris Plains Ernest Palestis

$245,824

$145,000

$100,824

Mendham Boro Thomas Butler

$212,340

$135,000

$77,340

           
PASSAIC          
Woodland Park Elaine Baldwin

$243,672

$140,400

$103,272

Bloomingdale Frank Buglione

$186,228

$81,000

$105,228

           
SALEM          
Oldsman Twp Stephen Berkowitz

$117,332

$41,600

$75,732

           
SUSSEX          
Andover Regional Peter Merluzzi

$234,168

$116,256

$117,912

Fredon Twp Diane Pittenger

$140,724

$62,280

$78,444

 

At least eight other retirees worked as interim superintendents earlier in the 2012-2013 school year. (The number does not include Ralph E. Ross Sr., who left Deptford Township schools to take a job in Monroe Township schools.) Here is that list:

 

DISTRICT FIRST LAST TOTAL SALARY PENSION
           
ATLANTIC          
Brigantine Robert Previti

$210,455

$130,895

$79,560

           
CAMDEN          
Mt. Ephraim Diane DeGiacomo

$230,652

$135,000

$95,652

           
CAPE MAY          
Lower Twp Joseph Cirrinicione

$160,580

$65,000

$95,580

           
ESSEX          
Montclair Clarence  Hoover

$250,316

$177,320

$72,996

           
GLOUCESTER          
Deptford Twp Ralph Ross

$292,272

$149,256

$143,016

Greenwich Twp Robert Suessmuth

$198,618

$89,598

$109,020

           
HUDSON          
Kearny Ronald Bolandi

$295,060

$167,500

$127,560

           
MONMOUTH          
W Long Branch Herbert Massa

$195,184

$98,800

$96,384

           
SUSSEX          
Sussex Co Tech Anthony  Macerino

$257,316

$156,000

$101,316

 

SOURCE: New Jersey Watchdog gathered the data from state pension records and employee records obtained from individual school districts through Open Public Records Act requests.

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