Jane Eichman is the latest retired superintendent to return to public employment while still drawing a state pension.
This situation is becoming more common in the region, with four such examples now. Some people question the practice.
Eichman, who retired in June as superintendent of the Rock Falls High School district, took a job as interim superintendent of the Forrestville Valley school district in Ogle County’s Forreston.
In 2009, Nelson Superintendent Gregory Lutyens retired from the 40-student district, but he continued to lead it as interim superintendent while getting a $7,000-a-month pension.
When Nelson merged with the East Coloma district this year, Lutyens took charge of the combined district.
Last year, the Bureau Valley school district hired two interim superintendents: Jeff Thompson and James Whitmore, both former superintendents for the district. Each makes $50,000 a year in the interim job. Meanwhile, Whitmore receives $8,614 a month from his pension, and Thompson gets $7,578.
A month after Montmorency Superintendent John Rosenberry retired this summer, the school board asked him to return as the interim superintendent for the next year, while he gets $6,300 a month from his pension.
When members of the Teachers Retirement System retire, they are allowed to return to work in public education as long as they limit their employment to 100 days a year.
Even with that limit, some people criticize the practice of pensioners returning to work, calling it “double dipping.”
Eichman’s monthly pension amount is not publicly available. But having made $184,000 in her final year, she will likely receive more than $8,000 a month.
Eichman, who was in education for 40 years, said her only frustration with the new job is that her time in the district is limited to 100 days.
“One of the challenges is working within the 100-day confines,” she told Ogle County Newspapers.
Pensions ‘not meant to pad second career’
Diana Rickert, spokeswoman for the Chicago-based Illinois Policy Institute, has an answer to Eichman’s complaint.
“If she’s frustrated she can only work 100 days a year, then why is she retired?” Rickert said. “If you want to work every day, don’t collect your pension. Go back to working full time.”
She said she doesn’t blame Eichman and others for following the system’s rules, “but the rules are rigged.”
“A pension is not meant to pad a second career,” Rickert said. “It’s meant to help you in retirement.”
As it is, she said, superintendents receiving pensions are double dipping.
“They’re putting their hands twice in the taxpayers’ piggy bank,” Rickert said. “It’s very expensive.”
Eichman, 62, said she can see both sides of the issue.
“Some people are ready to retire and call it quits. I’ve been in the field for all but 7 years of my life,” she said, counting her years attending school. “It’s nice to be able to use the experience I’ve gleaned over the years.”
She is filling in for Superintendent Lowell Taylor, who has been on medical leave since mid-August.
Eichman could work through June 30, the end of the fiscal year, said Bob Ebbesmeyer, Forrestville Valley’s school board president. She makes $500 a day, he said.
“She is a very qualified candidate,” Ebbesmeyer said. “She is very up to date on changes with state statutes. She seems to be a nice fit.”
Not ‘ready to give up on education’
In an interview with Sauk Valley Media in May, Eichman, who typically vacations in San Diego in late July, said she would delay her annual trip a bit, so she would be sitting on the beach when the first bell of the new school year rings.
Indeed, Eichman was in San Diego when school started, but not for long. Her first day in Forreston was Aug. 27.
“I always wanted to do an interim [job],” she told Ogle County Newspapers. “I wasn’t ready to give up on education.”
The Illinois Policy Institute has long been critical of state pension rules. Rickert, the group’s spokeswoman, noted a recent survey showed that four out of five people over 50 expect to work in retirement to make ends meet.
“A lot of senior citizens have part-time jobs to pay property taxes, which go to pensions,” she said. “They don’t have the luxury of collecting a pension and a paycheck at the same time.”