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Food for thought on the Region One School District

The superintendent of schools of Regional School District One and the towns of Canaan, Cornwall, Kent, North Canaan, Salisbury and Sharon has to be notified by Aug. 31 if there is to be a continuation of her employment. It is certain that her employment will be extended if she so chooses. 

The individuals responsible for the salary and benefit decisions should remember that his/her first allegiance is to the taxpayers of our region, period. These same people are tough as nails on the local level when it comes to negotiation with certified and noncertified personnel. The same is true of other Central Office unionized administrative personnel. It’s time to apply that same standard to the superintendent. 

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Last fall, Region One’s board of education, foolishly in my opinion, approved a package to a Central Office administrator that was disguised as a retirement package. This administrator had only five years of service in the district. That move cost the taxpayers of our region, out of our pockets, almost $150,000. Up to that point, never in the history of our district, to my knowledge, had a Central Office administrator received any sort of package upon retirement nor was any language then or now included in any administrative agreement. I told my town’s representative on the Region One Board of Education and our town’s representative to the ABC committee at that time to what this would lead. That decision has left the door opened for nonunion Central Office administrators to attempt to include such language in any future contract when negotiating with the responsible entity. It shouldn’t be done!

Most board members and certainly the public have no idea what a generous salary and other benefits are currently provided to the superintendent.

Here are a few examples:

• The superintendent is the highest paid public official in the six-town school region. For 2015-2016, the cash component of her base salary is $160,590.

• In addition, she is given 6 percent of her salary for the specific purpose of investing in a 403(b) annuity. For 2015-2016, that amounts to $9,635. Note that every time she has an increase in her base salary she also has an automatic increase in the amount of her annuity.

• The IRS describes that annuity as a tax-sheltered retirement which can be used at the age of 59 ½ without incurring any penalty. Taxpayers have funded this plan for her in anticipation of her eventual retirement. It is my understanding that for all except her first year of employment in Region One (not Sharon, where she was previously employed) she has received an annuity, ranging from $3,000 to the current amount. It appears that region’s taxpayers over the years have easily contributed in excess of $80,000 to the plan. 

• While her contract states her work year is 260 days, that is misleading, as it does not count 25 days of vacation (five weeks), eight federal holidays and five personal days which she uses or loses, with the exception of 10 vacation days which she can carry over to the next fiscal year. That brings her actual work year to 222 days. Additionally, she has five bereavement days annually should she need them.

• The district pays for a $220,000 term life insurance policy and also pays $500 toward disability insurance.

• The contract allows for unlimited expenditures for continued education with no conditions for restrictions, approvals or oversight. Since 2010, taxpayers have paid over $40,000 to the superintendent as she pursues a doctoral degree, with more money for that purpose currently budgeted. 

• She is also provided with health and dental benefits of which Region One pays most of the cost. 

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Given the current circumstances, it seems likely that the superintendent would ask for, at the minimum, a contract extension of some duration that provides for an increase in her salary and additional new language in the agreement that provides for retirement benefits. Likely those benefits would include severance pay and health insurance coverage until she reaches 65. Board members and taxpayers should understand that currently no language exists in her agreement for any of that, nor should it, going forward. Region One taxpayers have already been more than generous in contributing to a retirement fund for her. She should not be given an advantage of health insurance coverage in retirement when other retirees, most of whom have served their district much longer, do not have the same benefit. Based on this scenario the cost to taxpayers would be in the neighborhood of at least an additional $50,000 when she retired.

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To make it clear, when the superintendent does retire it appears that she will have at least 28 years of service in Connecticut. Based on the state’s teacher retirement formula of the average of her three years of highest earnings and the percentage used to determine an annual “normal” retirement payment, the superintendent would receive annually in excess of $93,000 in a retirement benefit. If she worked an additional year her annual benefit would be in excess of $98,000. If she chose to pay into the Teacher Retirement system for those years that she worked out of state her annual pension would increase dramatically. Even an addition of five years credit to the 28 years would increase her pension to an annual take of over $110,000. Adding seven years to the 28 years would increase her annual pension to almost $117,000, and if she contributed the maximum of 10 years from out-of-state, her pension would soar to over $125,000 annually. 

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Everyone should understand that there is a direct correlation between what she receives as a pension amount from the state and what the district has paid her annually. She has been fairly treated. If there is a contract extension her salary should remain as it is. No language should be added to provide for additional monies at retirement or a severance payment and there should not be any payment of health insurance once she is retired. It’s time for board members to exercise fiscal responsibility and restraint given what this district has already so generously provided her. 

 

Patricia Allyn Mechare lives in Falls Village, was a Region One teacher for decades before her retirement, and is currently the Falls Village first selectman.