Double-dips mean millions for ‘retired’ New Jersey school chiefs

Mar 1, 2013 by

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


Since he retired as a school superintendent 18 years ago, Butler has held 23 jobs as an interim or temporary chief at public school districts in 12 different counties. While continuing to draw six-figure salaries from taxpayers, he has pocketed $1.2 million in state pension checks.


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 leader.


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


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 position without losing any benefits. There is no limit on the number of times they ccan 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 report.


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


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,” Ross said. “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, 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 in January as interim superintendent with a $122,000 salary.


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


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 that 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,” Bozza said. “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 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 22 districts


Butler’s 23rd post-retirement post is at Mendham Borough schools in Morris County. He was hired in 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, there were 37 interim superintendents working in state public schools who also were drawing New Jersey pensions as retired school administrators. Here’s in New Jersey Watchdog’s list, sorted alphabetically by county:


Brigantine William Gussie $193,520 $117,500 $76,020
Estell Manor Bruce Greenfield $183,516 $117,120 $66,396
HackensackCity 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
PalisadesPark Twp Mark Hayes $174,540 $72,000 $102,540
Mahwah Twp Karen Lake $240,194 $108,230 $131,964
Shamong Twp Dolores Szymanski $193,980 $85,800 $108,180
EdgewaterPark Twp Cheryl L. Smith $177,860 $104,000 $73,860
CamdenCounty 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
Fairfield Twp Mary Lou DeFrancisco $201,444 $135,000 $66,444
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
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
OldBridge Twp Timothy Brennan $252,740 $177,500 $75,240
Manasquan Robert Mahon $262,116 $157,500 $104,616
Shore & W Long Branch Renae LaPrete $251,744 $147,500 $104,244
Wharton & Mine Hill Dennis Mack $251,264 $155,000 $96,264
MorrisPlains Ernest Palestis $245,824 $145,000 $100,824
Mendham Boro Thomas Butler $212,340 $135,000 $77,340
WoodlandPark Elaine Baldwin $243,672 $140,400 $103,272
Bloomingdale Frank Buglione $186,228 $81,000 $105,228
Oldsman Twp Stephen Berkowitz $117,332 $41,600 $75,732
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:


Brigantine Robert Previti $210,455 $130,895 $79,560
Mt.Ephraim Diane DeGiacomo $230,652 $135,000 $95,652
Lower Township Joseph Cirrinicione $160,580 $65,000 $95,580
Montclair Clarence Hoover $250,316 $177,320 $72,996
Deptford Township Ralph Ross $292,272 $149,256 $143,016
Greenwich Township Robert Suessmuth $198,618 $89,598 $109,020
Kearny Ronald Bolandi $295,060 $167,500 $127,560
W Long Branch Herbert Massa $195,184 $98,800 $96,384
Sussex Co Tech Anthony Macerino $257,316 $156,000 $101,316


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

Double-dips mean millions for ‘retired’ New Jersey school chiefs.

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