March 3, 2013

As double-dipping grows, so does scrutiny of state pensions

Maine lawmakers, who’ve taken steps to discourage the practice, largely agree the public retirement system can’t be sustained in the long term.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Lance Libby, 64, is a retired teacher who has gone back to work as a regular substitute. His wife, Linda Libby, 65, also is a retired teacher who works as a regular substitute.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Because of a reporting error, the chart misidentified Donald Siviski. He is the former superintendent of RSU 2 but currently works for the Department of Education in Augusta.

Lewiston school Superintendent Bill Webster, one of the few educators who have publicly opposed double-dipping, said the pension system has become unsustainable. He said the state cannot keep making promises to retirees without the money to back it up.

“Really, the state should cut a check to every retiree and get out of the retirement system,” Webster said. “Except, we don’t have nearly enough money to do it.”

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

Educators make up about 80 percent of all return-to-work employees, but Kilby-Chesley doesn’t see that as a problem.

“In most cases, it’s a veteran teacher with tons of experience who retires and comes back, often part time,” she said. “They don’t get any health benefits and there is no additional retirement contribution. So really, it saves the district money.”

That’s the case with Lance Libby, 64, and his wife, Linda Libby, 65, both of whom are retired teachers who have gone back to work as regular substitutes.

“I could go work in my son’s wood shop and no one would know,” said Lance Libby, who lives in Bowdoin. “But I’m a better teacher than I am a woodworker. And I still like working with kids.”

The Libbys both retired in July of 2006 and went back to work in January 2007. In the years since, the amount of days each has been asked to substitute teach has varied. Last year was a good year: Lance made $11,955 as a regular sub; Linda made $12,617. Their combined pension was a little more than $77,000.

“It hasn’t been about the money for us,” Lance Libby said. “We don’t need it. But there is a need for reliable substitutes, or else we wouldn’t keep getting calls.”

Outrage about double-dippers is directed less at folks like the Libbys and more at people like Suzanne Lukas.

Lukas is a former superintendent of SAD 6 in Buxton. She retired effective July 1, 2011, and then went to work immediately as superintendent of RSU 24 in Ellsworth. In 2012, Lukas made $106,153 in salary and $86,881 in pension, the fourth highest total earnings in the state.

Lukas objects to the term double-dipper. She said she worked hard for that pension and continues to work hard for her salary.

“People say it like it’s a negative thing,” she said. “But we have military retirees who get a pension and come to work at school and no one says anything about that. It’s a retirement plan. That’s all.”
She also said all school districts are equal-opportunity employers.

“They didn’t have to hire me,” she said. “But I was the best person for the job.”

Sandra MacArthur, director of the Maine School Management Association, which represents superintendents, said there are 20 open superintendent positions currently and as many as 12 administrators who have an interim tag. The positions are hard to fill with qualified candidates, she said.

Although educators make up the largest group of double-dippers, there are nearly 300 state employees and a little more than 100 municipal workers whose communities are, or were, part of the state retirement system.

Six employees of the Maine Attorney General’s Office, including William Stokes, the head of the criminal division, are on the list. Two members of LePage’s Cabinet – Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett and Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock are double-dippers – as is Col. Patrick Fleming, head of the Maine State Police. Two of LePage’s executive department staff members also are retirees who have come back to work.

Among the 295 state employees who collect a pension and salary, some departments are well represented. There are 29 in the Department of Health and Human Services and 24 in the Department of Conservation. Other departments have few. The Department of Marine Resources has two double-dippers; the Department of Environmental Protection has just one.

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