Retired, but not retired; the system is to blame

When public school superintendents can retire, draw inflated pensions, and then rejoin the public school work force, something's not right. The entire system needs an overhaul to promote fairness, responsibility, and sustainability.

The dictionary defines "retired" as "having left one's job and ceased to work."

Students who learn that definition certainly must be confused when they see retired public school superintendents, while still receiving their pensions, return to work and get paid hundreds of dollars a day.

Adults are likewise a little confused, and with good reason.

The Sauk Valley has seen several retired school superintendents reappear in their old schools or nearby schools under the title "interim superintendent."

A few months ago, Jane Eichman, who retired as Rock Falls High School superintendent this past summer, took a job as interim superintendent for the Forrestville Valley School District in Forreston.

John Rosenberry, who retired earlier this year as superintendent of Montmorency School District, was hired back as the interim superintendent.

Greg Lutyens retired in 2009 as superintendent of the Nelson School District, but was hired back, year after year, as the interim superintendent. With the consolidation of East Coloma and Nelson school districts on July 1, Lutyens became interim superintendent of the combined district.

At the Bureau Valley School District, two retired superintendents share interim duties for a second year: Dennis Thompson and James Whitmore.

What they are doing is perfectly legal. Superintendents who have retired and collect pensions from the Teachers Retirement System may work for up to 100 days without affecting those pensions.

But the practice sticks in the craw of some people. That is especially the case when superintendents were granted 6 percent pay raises over their final 4 years on the job to inflate their pensions, some of which approach six figures.

The incentive was designed to encourage early retirements, which were supposed to provide opportunities for younger, lower-paid administrators to move up the ladder and save districts money.

But when retirees take vacant superintendent jobs on an interim basis, and pad their pension checks with 100 days of employment at $500 a day, for example, the practice defeats its original purpose and rubs many taxpayers the wrong way.

We certainly don't begrudge fair pensions for school superintendents who are really retired. We don't begrudge paying a decent salary to interim superintendents.

But when those people are one and the same, we are troubled.

Illinois' economy is not what it should be. Too many people remain unemployed or underemployed, yet they still must contribute tax dollars to schools and the pension system.

And Illinois public pension system, underfunded to the tune of nearly $100 billion, is in deep trouble.

The entire system needs an overhaul to promote fairness, responsibility, and sustainability. And we don't need to look those words up in the dictionary.