I-Team Exclusive: Super Loophole
By Charlotte Huffman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Imagine retiring, collecting a pension and then returning to your job to collect a paycheck on top of your pension.
It’s a sweet deal for public school superintendents, and it’s all paid for by your taxes.
Investigative Reporter Charlotte Huffman reveals the “Super Loophole” that some say needs to be closed.
The I-team tracked down interim superintendents across southern New Jersey to ask them some uncomfortable questions.
The superintendents say they’re retired, but the I-Team found them hard at work and far from retirement.
The “retired” school administrators are earning public school district paychecks on top of huge state-funded pensions.
Among them, Audubon School District interim superintendent Ed Wasilewski, who is earning a $100,000 annual pension.
Dolores Szymanski, interim superintendent for Mount Holly School District, is raking in $108,000. Geraldine Carroll, interim superintendent at Lindenwold School District, earns nearly $112,000.
Monroe Township’s Ralph Ross is just the assistant interim superintendent. He’s pocketing an annual pension of about $143,000 in addition to a salary of $136,500 and his grand total is more than $280,000 a year.
“I’m not the only one who does it,” said Ross. “There’s a number of superintendents.”
Currently, 51 “retired” superintendents in New Jersey are collecting a pension and earning a paycheck working on an interim basis.
It’s lucrative and it’s perfectly legal.
New Jersey state law allows school administrators to retire and then return to a public job, even the same job, for up to two years. However, the law does not limit how many different interim positions one can hold.
“It’s like a jackpot, it’s like a lottery,” says Mark Lagerkvist. “And only the superintendents get to play.”
Lagerkvist is from the public interest group New Jersey Watchdog and points out that the same rules don’t apply to teachers.
“There’s a special exception for administrators and they’re taking advantage of it,” Lagerkvist said.
Retired superintendents working on an interim basis are teaching taxpayers a big lesson.
The state’s pension system faces a debt of more than $51 billion.
And of that amount, Lagerkvist says $22 billion is school teachers and administrators.
“We need to fix it,” says State Senator Jennifer Beck. “We have a loophole that allows people to do this.”
The Republican Senator is co-sponsoring a bill that would suspend the pension of any retired state employee who returns to a public job paying more than $15,000 a year.
“You’re getting a salary, a pension and these are taxpayer funded simultaneously,” she said. “We’ve got to change the law.”
But administrators like Stephen Derkoski, who has held six interim jobs since retiring in 2005, says interim superintendents are helping districts who cannot find permanent replacements.
“What I’m doing for the community is providing a service with a lot of experience,” said Derkoski, who is the interim superintendent for Greenwich Township.
Derkoski and Ross are making no apologies.
“I earned those benefits,” said Ross. “I worked 48 years for those benefits.”
Meanwhile, Ross says he does not plan on retiring anytime soon.
“Well, someday when I don’t feel energetic anymore and don’t feel that I can do the job,” he said. “I feel that I’m doing a good job here.”
Pennsylvania and Delaware laws also allow retired superintendents to return to work on an interim basis and collect their pensions on top of a paycheck, although with some limitations.
Click here to view pension amounts for Pennsylvania administrators.
Click here to view pension amounts for New Jersey administrators.
Delaware does not make pension amounts public record.