Dec. 29, 2010
by Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego
...Nice Non-Work if You Can Get It:
The U-T looks at educator pensions and finds that "the average retired educator in San Diego County is paid $40,633 per year, or 58 percent of their final salary. That's more than the average general city worker at $37,442 but less than the $67,428 for firefighters or the $62,098 for police officers."
The retired county school superintendent, meanwhile, gets more than $200,000 a year in pension proceeds - also more than his final salary. The paper tried to reach the eight retired educators with the highest local pensions, seven former superintendents and one former community college president. Two agreed to talk, said their jobs were "very difficult." They also each get more than $200,000 in pension proceeds a year.
One ex-East County school superintendent had this to say: "It's a very difficult job, a 60-hour-a-week job. None of us are rich from it. Some may think we are, but we are not." Make a note of that, people who work 60 hours a week...
6 retired educators in county are paid more than U.S. education secretary
With no clear way to fund retirement benefits, state system faces huge shortfall
By Maureen Magee and Danielle Cervantes
December 27, 2010
Top educator pensions, San Diego County
1. Rudy Castruita, retired in 2006 as superintendent to the San Diego County Office of Education, receives $281,034 or 107 percent of his salary.
2. Kenneth Noonan, retired in 2007 as superintendent of the Oceanside Unified School District, receives $249,011 or 92 percent of his salary.
3. Larry Maw, retired in 2005 as superintendent of the San Marcos Unified School District, receives $229,326 or 98 percent of his salary.
4. Ralph Cowles, retired as superintendent of Vista Unified School District in 2006, receives $223,632 or 97 percent of his salary.
5. Sherrill Amador, retired in 2004 as president of Palomar Community College, receives $218,511 or 113 percent of her salary.
6. Warren Hogarth, retired in 2003 as superintendent of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, receives $216,348 or 105 percent of his salary.
7. Louis “Lean” King, retired in 2009 as superintendent of the Encinitas Union Elementary School District, receives $179,144 or 83 percent of his salary.
8. Thomas Anthony, retired in 2009 as superintendent of the Fallbrook Union High School District, receives $173,812 or 89 percent of his salary.
San Diego’s pension problems have given the city a bad name nationally, but it’s becoming more apparent every week that similar benefit levels and funding shortfalls are plaguing governments small and large across the nation.
As part of an ongoing examination of these issues, The Watchdog has reviewed local educator pensions and found a familiar story — high benefits with no clear way to pay them.
The state teacher’s pension system faces a $40.5 billion shortfall over the next 34 years, in part because it owes payments for life to people such as Rudy Castruita, the retired superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education.
Castruita receives the region’s top educator pension of $281,034 a year, or 107 percent of his final salary. That pay in retirement exceeds U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s 2009 base salary of $196,700. Castruita, a 1992 state superintendent of the year, did not return several calls.
The review found:
• The average retired educator in San Diego County is paid $40,633 per year, or 58 percent of final salary. That’s more than the average general city worker at $37,442 but less than the $67,428 for firefighters or the $62,098 for police officers.
• About 5 percent of educators receive pensions that pay them 100 percent or more of their final salary.
• Some 254 receive pensions of $100,000 or more, or 1.7 percent of the retirees. That compares to 3.4 percent of city retirees.
As with the San Diego city pension system, benefits for current pensioners are locked in and protected by law. Changes in the coming years could affect current employees — and taxpayers — as policymakers struggle to fill the gap.
The Watchdog looked at the pensions of 15,358 local educators who are members of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The data represents a snapshot from September 2009 to August 2010. The survey includes educators who retired as recently as this year from the county’s 42 school districts, five community college districts and other educational institutions.
Seven of the top eight pensions belong to former superintendents, career educators whose experience includes everything from a teacher’s strike and bitter school board politics to test score gains and academic innovations. The other top pension belongs to a former community college president.
The top recipients retired after careers that lasted more than 30 years. Many of them worked their way up from teacher to principal and top administrator.
The Watchdog attempted to reach all eight, and two agreed to comment.
Warren Hogarth, who retired from the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District in 2003 after nearly 37 years, worked in the district’s print shop during college, getting his first teaching assignment at the elementary school he attended as a boy before he was promoted to principal and eventually superintendent — a post he held for 21 years.
“It’s a very difficult job, a 60-hour-a-week job. None of us are rich from it. Some may think we are, but we are not,” said Hogarth, whose annual pension pays him $216,348 or 105 percent of his final salary. “The job is like running a business or a city; you are overseeing 22 schools, operating a bus system, feeding 16,000 kids — not to mention the education part of it.”
Larry Maw, retired from the San Marcos Unified School District with a $229,326 pension, said he is distressed by the fiscal crisis for schools but that retirement payments remain an obligation for public employers.
“It was a very difficult job, and I was very fortunate to have support throughout my career from the district and board,” he said. “The pension is based on a formula.”
Most pensions are awarded as standard retirement packages that are based on a retiree’s age, the number of years worked and their highest and final salaries. Some educators can cash in unused sick time for pension credit.
Special programs can add more to an educator’s retirement. For example, in the last decade, veteran educators with at least 30 years’ experience were eligible for “longevity bonuses” that add up to $400 to monthly pension payments under a limited program designed to help districts retain experienced employees. Educators also receive a 2 percent per year “improvement benefit” in lieu of cost-of-living increases.
Educators who supplement their incomes by taking on extra duties — such as advising the campus newspaper or coaching a team — could count those stipends toward their retirement under a program that ends this year.
Higher-level administrators often negotiate more sophisticated retirement packages.
“Superintendents typically have between a two- to four-year contract, and they are challenged to do a great deal in a short amount of time,” said Richard Thome, co- director of the Educational Leadership Development Academy at the University of San Diego. “It’s a difficult job and we need strong leaders who are qualified to lead our school districts. Compensation has to correlate with that need.”
San Diego County
Collective annual allowance: $624.5 million
Average pension: $40,663
Highest pension: $281,034
Average final pay: $67,313
Average years of service: 26
Top city pensions, 2009, according to San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System data:
$299,103: Eugene Gordon, assistant city attorney
$247,312: Douglas McCalla, retirement system investment officer
$237,602: Thomas Clark, fire battalion chief
$235,936: Louis Scanlon, assistant police chief
$227,250: Anna Martinez, city librarian
Marcia Fritz, president of the nonprofit pension reform group, California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, said CalSTRS pensions are not sustainable and are out of sync with the private sector.
Any notion that top superintendent candidates would flee to the private sector without generous public compensation plans are a scare tactic, Fritz said.
“Let them go,” she said. “Turnover in the public sector is a fraction of what it is in the private sector.”
Educators pay 8 percent of their salaries toward their retirement, with taxpayers contributing 8.25 percent from school districts and another 2 percent from the state. Those contributions would need to rise to fill the $40.5 billion funding gap projected over the next 34 years.
“The longer it takes to implement a solution, the costlier that solution will become to the state of California,” said Ricardo Duran, spokesman for the state teacher pension fund.
Meanwhile, retired educators are cashing their growing pension checks as school districts cut programs and layoff teachers.
For example, Hogarth’s pension income grew by 2 percent last year, even as teachers in his former La Mesa-Spring Valley School District were directed to cut pink erasers in half to stretch their limited classroom supplies and save money.
See also: School chiefs average $190,000 in pay