By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
New Jersey taxpayers and lawmakers could learn a lesson on double-dipping from Robert Mahon, a retired school chief who never really quit working.
Mahon has collected $1.7 million in pension checks since he took early retirement in 1995 as superintendent of Ocean Township schools in Monmouth County.
Thanks to a loophole in pension law, retiree Mahon has still been making the rounds on public school payrolls for most of the past 19 years.
Drawing six-figure executive pay on top of his $104,621 annual pension, Mahon has worked as an interim, or temporary, superintendent at 10 Jersey Shore school districts — including Manasquan, Spring Lake Heights, Barnegat, Colts Neck, Red Bank, Little Egg Harbor, Bradley Beach, Farmingdale and Brielle, in reverse order.
At 78, Mahon’s latest post-retirement stop is the Asbury Park school district, which pays him $605 a day — the equivalent of roughly $150,000 a year.
“A district has to have a superintendent,” said Mahon. “Whether I’m here in an interim capacity or someone else, they’re paying for a superintendent.”
The question is whether the New Jersey public retirement system — facing a $52 billion deficit — can afford to pay big pensions to retirees who are still working in high-paying public jobs.
A New Jersey Watchdog investigation last year found 45 retirees working as interim school superintendents while collecting more than $4 million a year from the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund.
Pension rules allow retired administrators — but not other school employees — to work for up to two years in interim positions without losing benefits. And there is no limit on the number of times they can work in an interim role.
“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 on this story.
The practice has resulted in a merry-go-round of retired school chiefs who turn to second careers as roving interim administrators. The same well-connected figures show up time and time again.
Just before his stint in Asbury Park, Mahon was interim superintendent at Manasquan schools. When he left, the district replaced him with another temporary school chief.
Renae LaPrete was hired by Manasquan schools in July 2013 at a salary of $157,500 a year. LaPrete also collects a $104,253 a year pension. She took early retirement in 2007 as superintendent of Hazlet schools.
Before Manasquan, LaPrete worked as a interim superintendent at Shore Regional, West Long Branch and Clark public schools.
“I didn’t make that decision to allow interims, the state did,” said LaPrete.
Working with LaPrete at Manasquan is Dominic Carrea, who is paid $600 a day as the district’s interim business administrator. Carrea draws a pension of $86,223 a year as retired assistant superintendent of Holmdel schools.
Prior to his Manasquan job, Carrea was employed as an interim administrator at Holmdel, Bradley Beach, Eatontown, West Long Branch, Middletown and Rumson-Fair Haven Regional public schools.
Back in Asbury Park, Carole Morris works as a state monitor assigned to supervise the troubled district. When the school board voted to hire a permanent superintendent to replace Mahon in November, Morris vetoed their decision.
“I worked over 40 years for those benefits, so I don’t think of them — right or wrong — I don’t think of them as taking something I don’t deserve,” said Morris.
If enacted, the legislation would suspend the state pension of any retiree who returned to a public job paying more than $15,000 a year.
“The pension system is intended to support you at a time you are no longer working,” said Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Red Bank, a primary sponsor of S-883. “So when you are an active employee, you should not be able to tap into both.
“You’re really destroying the fabric of the pension system,” Beck told New Jersey Watchdog. “You just can’t afford to do this stuff.”
Contact Mark Lagerkvist at [email protected]