I-Team 10 Investigation: Double dipping bill

Posted at: 06/21/2013 5:08 PM
Updated at: 06/21/2013 6:22 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

Lawmakers say it will save you money. On Thursday, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would limit how long retired school superintendents can return to work on an interim basis.

The goal is to cut down on double-dipping, but will it actually save taxpayers money?

While the bill has passed the Senate, it has not been taken up by the New York State Assembly. It's intended to prevent retired superintendents from double-dipping, drawing a hefty pension then returning to work to collect a paycheck at the same time. But what about those elected officials that are doing the same thing?

For 13 years, Josephine Kehoe led the East Irondequoit School District as their superintendent. She retired and began collecting a state pension. But since then, she has come out of retirement five times to help districts on an interim basis who are searching for a new superintendent.
But a Senate bill passed Thursday in Albany would restrict how long retired superintendents could serve in an interim role and collect their pension at the same time. Reached by phone Friday, Kehoe says bringing on a retired superintendent during a transition time can actually save taxpayers money.

Josephine Kehoe said, "It's hard to put a timeline on how long a superintendent search will take. You have to pay somebody, and in fact, it mostly, in the long run is cheaper for the district because they don't have to pay into a retirement system. I don't think it's good legislation."

Jody Siegle, Monroe County School Boards Association, said, “My first reaction to this bill is it's a solution in search of a problem."

Jody Siegle is the Executive Director of the Monroe County School Boards Association.

News10NBC's Brett Davidsen said, “Why should a superintendent get a pension and also this salary? Why not just suspend the pension while you're getting a salary?”

Siegle said, “Well, because the pension is based on the work the superintendent did during their career before they returned. Anyone who gets a pension, it's not based on their future work, it's based on what they did in the past."

The bill, which passed on a vote of 56 to 7, would allow retired superintendents to fill in, but only for up to a year. After that, the district would have to request a waiver and prove a hardship.
In a written statement, State Senator Michael Nozzolio praised the bill, saying, “This important reform closes a loophole and will help to reduce the burden on New York's hardworking local property taxpayers."

But educators say there's a certain hypocrisy to it because many elected officials are on the state payroll while also collecting a state pension. Locally, Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy and Assemblyman David Gantt are two examples. Beyond that, Siegle says, in 25 years, she can only think of two occasions locally where a retired-interim superintendent stayed on longer than a year.

Siegle said, "In the case of this law, it isn't going to change anything in Monroe County. This isn't something that's abused around the state. It's a rare occurrence when it happens."

All of our local state senators voted for the bill. I-Team 10 did call Senator Ted O'Brien's Office, but because it is the last day of the legislative session, he was unavailable for comment. His communications director, though, says the bill is intended to save taxpayers money. When I-Team 10 asked him why they didn't address elected officials double-dipping as well, he said that wasn't the bill in front of them.