Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  

The New Rich

Recommended Posts



Home | News | Sports | Business | Entertainment | Classifieds


Columnists | Autos | Homes | Careers | Lifestyles | Ebert | Search

mobile | email edition | printer friendly | email article


Today's news











Special sections



War on Terror

War in Iraq



















Quick Takes











Other Views







Big pay boosts in last years blow out retirement packages


July 13, 2003


BY TIM NOVAK Staff Reporter Advertisement








Forget the gold watch. Henry Bangser already got his retirement gift--a series of 20 percent raises that will nearly double his salary during his last five years as superintendent at New Trier High School.


And those hefty pay raises will keep on giving after Bangser retires, at 57, from the affluent North Shore district on June 30, 2006.


They'll boost his pension to as much as $232,500 a year. That's more than he ever made in a year at New Trier until this past school year.



It will be one of the richest pensions of any Illinois public servant--far more than what governors get. Only doctors at government facilities get more.


And the taxpayers of Winnetka, Wilmette, Northfield and the other communities that send their children to New Trier won't have to cover that tab alone. All Illinois taxpayers--rich and poor--will have to help.


New Trier is doing what many other suburban school districts do to reward retiring superintendents: Give them big salary boosts their last years on the job, knowing that it'll be taxpayers statewide--and not the individual district--that gets stuck with the cost of paying the higher pension that results.


"It has become a gimme ... a golden parachute,'' said one south suburban school board president who questions why anyone should get 20 percent annual raises in anticipation of retirement.


Don Weber had a similar deal from the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois when he retired June 30 as superintendent of Naperville District 203.


So did John Conyers, superintendent of School District 15 in Palatine, and Linda Hanson, superintendent of the Deerfield and Highland Park high schools.


Businessman Ronald Gidwitz, who sits on the Illinois State Board of Education, views the deals as "an abuse of the system. Local school boards don't care because it's not coming out of their budgets. This is not the purpose of our retirement program. Then, one wonders why we have such a large deficit'' in the retirement system.


Those retirement deals siphon state education money from the classrooms, said state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin), who wants legislators to pass a law to stop school districts from handing out 20 percent salary hikes for soon-to-retire superintendents.


"When they give enhanced pensions to superintendents, that's going to come out of future education funding,'' Rauschenberger said. "We certainly need a cap where we end this perverse incentive where school boards give parting retirement gifts to superintendents."


Asked how big a yearly limit he would put on those end-of-career pay hikes that boost pensions, Rauschenberger said, "I think a 5 percent cap would be generous.''


Illinois legislators imposed the 20 percent cap in the 1970s because school districts were giving educators huge pre-retirement raises that translated into handsome pensions from the Teachers' Retirement System, a pension plan created in 1939 for educators working outside Chicago. The city's educators are covered by a different plan, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund.


The Teachers' Retirement System is the state's only public pension plan in which all Illinois taxpayers are responsible for paying pensions that are based on salaries set by local governments. And it's drastically underfunded, with just 52 percent of the $43 billion it needs for pensions.


These hefty pensions cost state taxpayers more money, but nobody could say exactly how much.


Illinois taxpayers will pay $1 billion into the Teachers' Retirement System this year. That compares with $65 million taxpayers statewide will pay to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, which gets most of its funding from city property taxes.


This means Chicago taxpayers are helping to pay teacher pensions throughout the state, while suburban and Downstate taxpayers pay little toward city pensions.


A review of superintendent contracts and payroll data from the six-county Chicago area details a host of perks. Among these: annuities to give superintendents a second pension, the right to cash in vacation days every year, cars for personal use, even a mortgage.


Here are some of those deals uncovered by a Chicago Sun-Times survey to which all but 10 of the 288 superintendents in the area responded:


*Bangser, superintendent at New Trier since 1990. Two years ago, he decided to retire, setting a date of June 30, 2006. At that point, he will have 34 years of service. That entitles him to the highest-possible pension the system allows. How much he gets is based on 75 percent of his average salary over his 48 highest-paid consecutive months.


The New Trier School Board rewarded Bangser's decision to retire with a five-year final contract. Before his current contract, he was paid $190,525 a year. By the end of the contract, he'll be up to $346,000. Plus, he can get a $20,000 bonus in each of his last four years. That adds up to a guaranteed minimum salary of $1.36 million over five years, and as much as $1.44 million. And Bangser got the parting deal even as he was warning the board of a potential $5 million deficit.


Bangser's pension will be at least $221,250, but it will be $232,500 if he gets all the bonuses. And the pension will automatically increase by 3 percent a year, every year, once he turns 61.


In an interview, Bangser, 54, agreed he's in line for a handsome pension. He pointed out that other superintendents have lucrative deals, too. But he didn't want to talk about the impact his pension might have on state taxpayers.


"It's a hard issue to address because it's personal,'' Bangser said.


Onnie Scheyer, the New Trier School Board president, defended Bangser's deal and dismissed any suggestion that the school district might be adding to the pension burden of less-affluent taxpayers across Illinois. She said New Trier taxpayers help pay for many government programs that don't directly benefit them.


"Certainly, New Trier taxpayers contribute more than their share for tax programs throughout the state,'' Scheyer said.


Even if the pension system required the New Trier district to shoulder the entire cost of Bangser's pension, Scheyer said, "I would not think the contract would have been written differently. We believed he should be recognized for his exemplary service to the district, and the board felt that he should be rewarded for his service. I think he was underpaid prior to this contract.''


Illinois school districts outside of Chicago contribute next to nothing toward the pensions of superintendents and teachers--just 0.58 percent of an employee's salary. Employees pay 9 percent of their salary, but the districts typically make those payments for superintendents, a common perk. The state's taxpayers annually contribute 13 percent of wages paid to suburban and Downstate teachers--about $1 billion for the budget year that began July 1. Pension administrators hope the investments on the contributions will be enough to meet the pension burden without needing to ask Illinois taxpayers for more money.


*Linda Hanson, superintendent of the Deerfield and Highland Park high schools, retired June 30. Her pension will be about $165,000, according to data showing her total pay rose from $199,419 to $261,382 over her final four years. Her pay included a $9,000 annuity each year--a separate retirement deal from the school board that also raised her state pension because the pension system counts the payment as part of her salary.


Hanson, 56, defended the practice of handing soon-to-retire school superintendents big pay raises and thus sharply boosting their pensions, too. The system encourages older, higher-paid workers to retire so they can be replaced with lower-paid, less-experienced staff, she said, and that saves school districts money.


Besides, Hanson said, "The legislators made this possible. They're the ones who voted this into effect. It's not the districts that have done this.''


*Donald Weber, superintendent of Naperville District 203, also retired June 30, after he got 20 percent pay raises each of his last two years. His pension will be about $158,000, based on data that shows his salary rose from $181,461 to $251,626 over his last four years.


"It was part of my contract,'' said Weber, 61. "It was negotiated in good faith. It's a benefit that all employees in our school district have. It's an inducement for someone approaching retirement.''


Dean Reschke, the Naperville School Board president, declined to say why the board gave Weber raises to increase his pension. "It was a mutually agreed-upon result,'' Reschke said.


"If you're putting that out there and encouraging them to retire, and they were replaced with someone half their age, you're cutting your payroll,'' he said. "It saves the district salary, increases a person's pension, while shifting the additional pension burden over to the [state-funded] pension plan.''


*John Conyers, superintendent of Palatine School District 15, also retired June 30, a year after his salary topped $300,000--the highest salary of any school superintendent in the state that year.


It was the third straight year that Conyers' salary had jumped. It was impossible to determine Conyers' pension because he didn't return repeated phone calls for his final year's salary. Louis Sands, president of the District 15 School Board, promised to release Conyers' compensation but later said it was unavailable.


Conyers, 57, had a base salary of $171,908 this year, plus a $15,000 bonus and a $3,556 annuity, totaling $190,464. But his compensation was much higher because he was allowed to cash in unused sick days and vacation days and because the school board also covered his pension contributions.


At a minimum, Conyers will have a pension of $180,000, but it's likely to be much higher--in fact, it's likely to be the biggest pension of anyone in the Teachers' Retirement System, at least until Bangser retires.


"The bottom line is that we are paying Dr. Conyers what he is worth to District 15 and what competition demands,'' Sands said in a written statement. "His experience and achievements have made him the object of recruiting attempts by many other school districts . . . yet he chose to remain loyal to District 15--largely, I believe, because we were being fair in our salary treatment.''


*Laura Murray, superintendent at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, wouldn't reveal her retirement plans. But, if she chooses to retire when her contract ends in three years, she could get an annual pension of $160,000 or more.


Rather than getting 20 percent annual raises like most suburban superintendents, Murray gets small increases along with a 20 percent payment during each of the next three years. If she leaves before the contract ends, she must repay the bonuses, which total $128,600. But, if she stays, the bonuses count the same as a raise would, bumping up her pension.


Lee Gaus, president of the south suburban school board, said the idea wasn't to inflate Murray's pension; it was to induce her to stay on the job.


"We're giving her bonuses to stay through her contract. If she leaves a day early, she has to pay us back."


But Gaus recognizes the problem the big late-career raises could present.


"It appears to me that it has become standard operating procedure that, once school administrators become of retirement age, school boards inflate their salary,'' Gaus said. "It has become a gimme. It has become the golden parachute.


"If somebody wants to retire, retire. But I have no understanding why I should give you a 60 percent increase over three years to go.''







“Base pay” is the figure school districts usually report when asked what they pay their superintendents. But more than that usually figures into superintendents’ total compensation, on which their state pensions are calculated. Total compensation also includes things like bonuses, stipends, annuities and employee pension contributions that school districts cover on their superintendents’ behalf. Below are the 15 superintendents with the highest base salaries for 2002-03 and their total compensation, according to a Sun-Times survey to which all but 10 of the 288 superintendents in the Chicago area responded. (About half of those responding to the survey did not disclose total compensation figures because they aren’t due to the state until August.)





Superintendent Base pay Total Students

1. Donald E. Weber $228,980 $251,626 18,961


Naperville District 203


2. Linda Hanson $221,741 $261,382 3,195


Township District 113 (Deerfield/Highland Park)


3. Henry Bangser $214,000 $240,000 3,747


New Trier District 203


4. L. Mitchell Bers $201,696 $201,696 752


Medinah District 11


5. Connie Neale $200,000 $232,967 37,445


Elgin School District U-46


6. Douglas Parks $198,972 $217,000 2,530


Aptakisic-Tripp District 102 (Buffalo Grove)


7. Jerome Gordon $190,310 $190,310 1,473


Bloomingdale District 13


8. Allan Alson $182,110 $207,491 3,050


Evanston District 202


9. Hardy Murphy $181,167 $199,084 6,755


Evanston/Skokie District 65


10. Dennis Conti $180,774 $216,747 6,810


Woodland School District 50 (Gurnee)


11. Jonathan Lamberson $180,000 NA 1,676


Lake Forest District 115


12. Glenn “Max” McGee $180,000 $200,670 3,469


Wilmette District 39


13. Arne Duncan $180,000 NA 426,273


Chicago Public Schools


14. Robert Howard $178,800 NA 6,474


District 59 (Arlington Heights)


15. Thomas Kersten $178,183 $194,219 1,824


Skokie District 68






Source: Individual school districts, Illinois State Board of Education











Base vs. total pay






Base pay Total compensation No. of students


Lynne Rauch $169,311 $245,000 15,354


Schaumburg District 54



Glenn Gustafson $141,917 $239,493 2,585


La Grange District 102



Ronald Patton $162,000 $231,119 2,774


Bloom Township District 206 (Chicago Heights)



Peter Yuska $124,700 $214,924 5,723


Orland District 135



Larry Weck $173,678 $214,285 3,812


Addison District 4



Mary Herrmann $165,000 $205,447 8,382


Barrington District 220



Rebecca Vanderbogert $170,116 $203,020 1,964


Winnetka District 36



Lawrence Baskin $134,787 $202,399 2,426


Glen Ellyn District 89



James White $122,850 $181,848 2,215


Queen Bee District 16 (Glendale Heights)



James A. Rabbitt $109,814 $153,813 471


Laraway District 70C (Joliet)








Source: Individual school districts, Illinois State Board of Education








Biggest pensions




Superintendent Retired Final salary Annual pension

1. Norman Wetzel June 2002 $279,785 $172,011


Kane County District 300


2. Marvin Edwards June 2002 $289,041 $164,821


Elgin School District U-46


3. Gerald Chapman June 2001 $284,568 $158,045


Palatine Township High School District 211


4. Jean McGrew July 1998 $198,713 $156,754


Northfield Township High School District 225


5. Jack Schoenholtz July 1999 $234,855 $154,018


Leyden High School District 212


6. Richard DuFour June 2002 $244,203 $153,526


Stevenson High School District 125


7. JoAnn Desmond June 2002 $277,060 $147,285


North Shore District 112


8. Stephen Berry July 1994 $181,041 $144,915


Township High School District 214





NOTE: These pensions increase 3 percent annually after the superintendent reaches his 61st birthday. McGrew, Schoenholtz and Berry are the only ones in this group who have gotten those increases to date.


SOURCE: Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois, Illinois State Board of Education and Sun-Times research








Vallas got $325,279 for turning in his resignation







When Paul Vallas resigned under fire from Mayor Daley as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, he walked away with a check for $325,279--nearly double his annual salary.



To start, Vallas got one year's salary for his going-away--$174,000. He also got $91,685 for 137 unused sick days, $58,223 for 87 unused vacation days, and $1,371 to cover health insurance costs for him and his family.



Vallas, who mounted a losing battle for Illinois governor, now runs the Philadelphia public schools.



Arne Duncan, who succeed him in the top Chicago schools job, is paid $180,000 a year.



Tim Novak







Not all superintendents striking it rich







Robert Priest knows where he ranks in school superintendent pay in Cook County.



Right at the bottom.



He got a base salary of $92,000 last school year to run Cook County School District 154, which is just a single elementary school in Thornton. That put Priest among just a handful of superintendents paid less than $100,000, even though he has less help than most superintendents.



"I'm everything," he said. "I'm the superintendent. I'm the principal. I'm the business manager.''



He doesn't get a car or a car allowance, like many others. He doesn't get an annuity for retirement, another common perk for superintendents. The district does pay his 9 percent contribution to the state pension plan, a perk almost every superintendent gets. It put his total compensation near $100,000.



Priest, 56, isn't expecting any bonuses to boost his salary and pension. He understands that his financially troubled district can't afford to lavish him with the luxuries others get.



"If I was doing this strictly for money, I would probably be in another profession,'' he said.



But why stay with the south suburban district when superintendents across the suburbs say their pay is soaring because of a shortage of people wanting these jobs, a point they illustrate by claiming that where once there were 100 candidates for each top schools job, now there are 30?



"I've heard that for the last three years, but, in concrete terms, I haven't seen a superintendent shortage,'' Priest said, adding, "If I had 30 applicants for every teaching position, I'd be very happy."



Tim Novak






The goodies that go with running a school district









Cars. Retirement bonuses. "Rabbi trusts." Double pensions. Even personal security.



Perks abound for school superintendents, especially those in the suburbs, who routinely ask for--and get--these extras as part of their employment contracts.



Many of these perks--including bonuses, annuities and stipends--are considered income, which ultimately boosts a superintendent's pension.



These are typical perks that school superintendents receive:



*Annuities. These provide superintendents a second retirement fund, in addition to their state-guaranteed pension, and were written into the contracts of 85 superintendents, a Chicago Sun-Times review of superintendent pay and benefits in more than 275 districts in the six-county Chicago area found. The biggest annuity: $40,000 a year for James Cunneen of Cicero's Morton High School District. The smallest: $323 for Gary Peck of Kirby District 140 in Tinley Park.



*Bonuses. Often linked to performance or impending retirement, at least 23 superintendents get these. The largest: $30,000 for Laura Murray of Homewood-Flossmoor High School. The smallest: a $600 longevity stipend for Kevin Cronin of Summit District 104.



*Cars. At least 30 superintendents get these. Some are allowed to drive those cars for personal use at taxpayer expense. The vehicles range from a Chrysler Concorde for Henry Bangser at New Trier High School in Winnetka to a 1999 Dodge Caravan that Arthur T. Newbrough of Mundelein District 120 gets. Chicago Public Schools chief executive Arne Duncan--who, unlike suburban superintendents, has no contract, serving at the pleasure of Mayor Daley--gets a Ford Crown Victoria and a driver.



*Car allowances. At least 154 superintendents get these. The largest: $10,615 a year for Eric King of Matteson District 159. The smallest: $360 for James Gray of Burbank District 111 and Neil Pellicci of Komarek District 94 in North Riverside.



*Pension contributions. Virtually all districts pay the 9 percent contribution that superintendents are required to make on their total salary--including annuities, bonuses and stipends--to the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois.



*Personal security. Connie Neale of Elgin School District U-46 gets personal security, at taxpayer expense, if she deems it necessary. So far, she hasn't.



*"Rabbi trusts." An investment tool originally used to pay clergy members, these are provided to at least two superintendents--Linda Murphy of Kenilworth District 38 and Lee Rieck of District 94 in West Chicago. Under IRS rules, money put in a rabbi trust is exempt from taxation until it is withdrawn. Murphy gets $30,000 a year for eight years put into her trust fund. Rieck gets $20,000.



*Sick days. Superintendents get between a dozen and five dozen sick days a year, and at least 56 districts allow them to stockpile an unlimited amount of days that can be cashed in upon retirement. The most lucrative deal on sick days belongs to Robert Howard of District 59 in Arlington Heights. He got paid $500 for each unused sick day when he retired June 30.



*Vacation. This is in addition to school holidays and typically must be used by the end of the school year. Some superintendents, though, get paid for vacation days they're unable to use. Joseph Palermo of Berkeley District 87 got the most vacation days last year--10 weeks. James Steyskal of Central Stickney District 110 got the fewest--two weeks.



*Housing allowances. This is a rare perk, reported by just one superintendent, Hardy Murphy of Evanston/Skokie District 65. Murphy gets $25,000 a year under his four-year contract to help pay for his Evanston home. In another housing perk, Harry Griffith of Lake Forest District 67 got a $75,000 home loan that may never have to be repaid.



Tim Novak






Free home loan his incentive to come--and stay









A $75,000 home loan that might never have to be repaid--that's perhaps the most-unusual perk given to any school superintendent in the Chicago metropolitan area.



But Harry Griffith says it was a key incentive to get him to leave Houston in 1994 and move to Lake Forest, where he is superintendent of School District 67.



"The board felt it was valuable to have a superintendent living in the community,'' said Griffith. "I couldn't afford to do it. That's when they said they would match my down payment. That made it financially difficult but possible to live in Lake Forest.''



Griffith said he was stunned at housing prices in the North Shore suburb.



"In Houston, I owned a 3,400-square-foot home with a swimming pool and a two-car garage that I sold for $140,000 in 1994,'' he said. "To find a home I could afford in Lake Forest--a 2,800-square-foot home with a two-car [garage] and no swimming pool--I had to pay $400,000.''



Easing that pain, Griffith said, his house has gone up in value, worth at least $550,000 today.



Griffith was paid $181,137 this past school year, not including the loan. He hasn't made a single payment on the loan, which was interest-free as long as he stayed through the last school year. And he might never have to repay it. The amount he owes on the loan will gradually decrease to zero if he stays through June 30, 2009.



"At first, it was just a loan, but then the board began to think of it as an incentive for me to stay,'' Griffith said. "It's been pretty effective, I'd say.''



Tim Novak





Retire, and watch your salary soar









JoAnn Desmond retired last summer as superintendent of North Shore School District 112 with one of the richest public pensions in Illinois.



The next day, she started her new part-time job--as superintendent of Bannockburn School District 106, a post requiring her to work what she describes as "eight or nine days'' a month.



Desmond's combined annual income of more than $217,000--$70,000 from her part-time job and $147,285 from her pension--tops the $164,229 salary she made four years ago at North Shore.



That was before she was given a late-career series of raises that sharply boosted her pre-retirement pay and resulted in her getting what's now the seventh-highest pension of anyone in the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois--a pension that's guaranteed for life by the state.



Desmond said she didn't want to stop working when she left the North Shore district, which includes 11 elementary schools in Highland Park and Highwood. But she said she retired because she turned 55, the minimum retirement age, and had the 34 years of service that's needed to receive the maximum possible pension.



"This isn't about doing it for the money,'' said Desmond, 56. "I was a superintendent for 15 years . . . but I couldn't maintain the work pace that I had. This is the hardest job in the business. I can't imagine anyone doing a job harder than a superintendent.''



When Bannockburn's school board decided to make its superintendent's job a part-time post, Desmond said that appealed to her because it required her to work just 100 days to manage the affluent, north suburban district, which has just one school and 200 kids.



Other suburban superintendents have gone on to new jobs after late-career pay boosts helped them to retire early with a substantial pension.



Former Elgin School District U-46 Supt. Marvin Edwards, 59, receives a $164,821 pension and teaches at Aurora University. Gerald Chapman, also 59, gets a $158,045 pension as the retired superintendent of Palatine Township High School District 211 and is a dean at Roosevelt University.



Tim Novak






Palatine chief won't say, but his pay may be close to top







John Conyers, superintendent of Palatine School District 15, retired June 30, leaving with what's surely one of the richest government pensions in Illinois, based upon a review of his compensation for the past four years. The Chicago Sun-Times was unable, though, to determine Conyers' actual pension because Conyers and his employer refused to disclose his final salary for his last year. Conyers' pension, through the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois, will be equal to 75 percent of his average salary during his highest 48 consecutive months. For Conyers and most other superintendents, their highest compensation comes in their last four years of work. Above is Conyers' compensation since July 1, 1999. Tim Novak




Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Guest_LBJackson

Silly me...and I thought Al Capone's Illinois gang was done in years ago. It looks like the taxpaying citizens of Illinois are being scammed again by the players and gamers of the "system".


What does it cost to buy an Illinois legislator nowadays, Al?

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is what happens when the average citizen leaves it up to the politicos. When was the last time anyone of us have attended a local school board meeting? Afterall it is at these PUBLIC meetings that the salaries are approved. The way I see it the residents of these districts have no one to blame but themselves.




Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Create New...