How, When, by whom were their end of career raises approved?
Were these raises legal? If not, can the district recoup its money? What about their pensions that are based on these raises? Can they be clawed back?
The 2010 contract extension was signed by the board president, but never on an agenda for approval. Was that legal? For a discussion of why signing a contract without board approval is a crime see: College of DuPage – Former Chairmen Carlin and Birt complicit in the crime? edgarcountywatchdogs.com
Read any letter-to-the-editor about Illinois public pensions and someone will chime in with a comment pointing out that teachers paid their fair share and that public pensions are guaranteed in the Illinois Constitution. But, should pensions based on large end or career salary spikes be guaranteed? How about those that exceeded their contracted amount; exceeded the limits set by Illinois law; and were hidden from the taxpayers who are responsible for paying the bill?
Wheaton-Warrenville, CUSD 200 had two administrators whose contracts (ending in 2009) called for 20% raise the last year worked. The contracts were extended to 2010 and 2011. They actually got 20%, 0, 6%, 6% the last four years. Personnel reports for the 2011 contract extensions exist, but nothing approving or even mentioning the pay increases or the 2010 contract extensions in any board packet, attachment or meeting minutes. These (we contend illegal raises for two individuals) resulted in $111,572 penalty paid by the district and increased the pensions for these two by approximately 20%.
Their original contracts allowed for a 20% increase in her last year of work. The updated contracts simply referenced the retirement plan in the original multi-year contract. Nothing in these contracts allowed for the 20% raise prior to her last year. The 20% is a one year increase that was maintained the following year by cashing in sick/vacation days. The two years at 6% were in the new contracts, but never made public at any open board meeting. These 6% increases were based on “gross pay” rather than the typical “base pay” – Thus, resulting in the one-time 20% becoming part of the base pay.
Note: the school year runs from July 1, of one year to June 30 of the next.
Margo Sorrick’s title was “Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services, SSC”
Dr. Lori Belha’s title was “Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, SSC”
The retirement clause from Dr. Margo Sorrick’s original 2004 to 2009 contract:
Notice it says “Increase last year’s salary by 20%…” That would be her last year worked. Not 3 years prior to that, as actually happened based on her actual pay.
Lori Belha’s retirement clause from her original 2004 to 2009 contract reads the same.
In Margo Sorrick’s retirement letter, she requests her 20% retirement benefit stating 2007 – 2008 school year, while acknowledging that would not be her last year worked. She states that her current contract ends 2009, but she would like to extend the contract until June 30, 2010 or better yet 2011. She notes that the district will not be assessed a penalty if they let her stay until 2010, but will pay one if the contract is extended to 2011. She wrote “However, the penalty for District 200 is substantial and it is not my desire to burden the district with the consequences.” But, she did burden the district.
In this letter, Ms. Sorrick requests the 20% end of career salary bump in the 2007-2008 school year. She seams to acknowledge that this should be a one year bump as she states that she will cash in unused sick/vacation days to keep the same 20% for the 2008-2009 year.
Similarly, Lori Belha’s retirement letter requests her 20% retirement benefit stating July 1, 2007 and requests that her retirement date be extended. She would like to work until June 30, 2011. But, points out that “under TRS regulations the board may only extend the contract one year at a time.” So she was requesting a retirement date of June 30, 2010. Again she is requesting her 20% last year worked raise in the 2007-2008 school year, prior to her last year worked.
The 20% raises for both Belha and Sorrick took place in the 2007-2008 school year which began on July 1, 2007. June 30, 2007 was the day superintendent Dr. Catalani retired. Dr. Catalani had hired both Sorrick and Belha. His three years in a row of 20% compounded raises had caused quite a stir in the community. July 1, 2007 was Dr Drury’s first day on the job. We have no way of knowing who approved the raises for the 2007-2008 school year.
The retirement letters were written in February 2007. Both Belha’s and Sorrick’s new contracts with new end date (June 30, 2010) were signed by the board president on April 17, 2007. In each, the retirement section continues the plan from 2004-2009 multi-year plan.
In the Employment, Term and salary section they say “the Administrator shall be paid a 6% increase on the gross salary earned in the 2009-2010 contract year.” The “Gross salary” includes any bonus or pay for cashed in sick/vacation days. Most administrative contracts that I have seen mention percent increase over “base pay.”
Currently the CUSD200.org web site has old meeting agenda with personnel reports, supplementary personnel reports and minutes attached going back to July 2006. None of these mention Sorrick’s or Belha’s 2010 contract extension. A single Board member has no authority to incur a debt without board approval! Board of education president, Andrew Johnson signed this contract without board approval. Did he break the law?
Margo Sorrick’s new contract with new end date (June 30, 2011) was signed by Dr. Sorick on December 5, 2008 and by the board president on December 17, 2008. Belha signed hers December 9, 2008 and the board president signed on December 17, 2008. Again the retirement section continues the plan from 2004-2009 multi-year plan. The Employment, Term and salary section basically the same as the previous one (6% increase in gross pay)..
This extension was covered in the supplemental personnel report, which was attached to the meeting agenda and approved as part of the Consent agenda on December 18, 2008. While the document is attached to the 12-17-2008 agenda, the header in the document has “October 8, 2008.”
From a recent FOIA, we have an explanation of how these employees justified their salaries.
A 2008 letter from Dr. Sorrick to Dr. Drury
Requests a contract extension to June 30, 2011.
It says “My current contract allowed for a district-paid 20% increase from my 06-07 salary for the 07-08 school year. The contract allows for my salary to remain, stable for the 08-09 school year subject to my submission of a combination of vacation and sick days to constitute the 20% increase from my 06-07 school year. Finally the current contract allows for a 6% increase over my 08-09 salary for the 09-10 salary.
I would like to ask for two considerations for the extension of this contract.
First of all, I would like to ask for a 6% increase for the additional year as allowed for by TRS. Also, I would like to exchange my current benefit of Family Medical and Family Dental for a $10,000.00 annuity contribution by the District.
A 2010 letter from Dr. Belha to Dr. Harris
In her letter to Dr. Harris, Dr. Belha requests that the district pay her retirement benefit of up to 59 vacation days and 17 sick days.
She acknowledges that she used 45.3 sick/vacation days to pay for the second year of 20% retirement. “This was not a cumulative raise but a match of the previous year salary.” She mentions meeting with Dr. Drury to discuss “consideration” for the extended contracts with M. Sorrick as a witness. (Drury had “resigned” due to differences with the board. Harris had been superintendent for five months at this time).
She claimed to have a verbal agreement with Dr. Drury that she could continue accruing vacation and sick days to be cashed in at retirement. She mentions the value of these disputed days ($35,820) and having legal counsel.
Note: there were multiple superintendents over this time period. And one of these two retirees was the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources who should oversee contracts, retirement packages and payroll.
- Dr. Catalani retired June 30, 2007
- Dr. Drury was superintendent from July 2007 to October 2009.
- Dr. Baker was interim Superintendent from October 2009 to June 2010. And
- Dr. Haris was superintendent from July 2010 to June 2014
Dr. Margo Sorrick – details
The penalty paid by CUSD 200 for excessive end of career raises for Dr. Sorrick was $57,548.82
Based on data from TRS, Sorrick’s starting pension ($149,044) as percent of her salary when she applied for retirement ($158,337 in 2007) is 93%
Year Salary % increase
2007 158,337.04 6.26%
2008 190,004.49 20.0%
2009 190,004.58 0%
2010 201,404.76 6.0%
2011 213,489.04 6.0%
- Starting pension on 8/12/2011 was $12,420.36/month or $149,044.32 annually.
- Current pension as of Feb. 2015 was $12,420.36/month or $149,044 annually. (no COLA yet)
- Sorrick had 33.026 years of service credit plus 1.974 year for unused sick-leave credit (total 35)
- Her service included 1.026 years purchased credit for private school service.
- From TRS she received a $23,001.62 refund ($18,592.62 for “2.2 refund” and $4,409.00 for not using the early retirement option)
- From CUSD 200, she received lump sum payments of $ $21,085.22 ($6,487.76 for 53.2 vacation days and $14,597.46 for 18 sick leave days)
For comparison, if the final end of career raises had been 0%, 0%, 0%, 20% as contracted
- Her salary in 2007 to 2010 would all have been 158,337.04
- In 2011 her salary would have been $161,503.78
- Total salary paid by the district would have been $158,387.97 less
- And her pension would be 80.1% of what it is. (Based on the percent difference in the average salary for the final four years worked).
These excessive raises cost the district $215,936.79 ($158,387.97 in excess salary and $57,548.82 in penalties).
It has been costing the TRS $29,697.75 per year retired so far (She has not received a COLA yet)
For four years that is $118,791.
Dr. Lori Belha – details
For Dr. Belha, the timeline is very similar to Sorrick’s. Penalty for Belha due to excess salary increase cost the district $54,023.61.
Based on data from TRS, Belha’s starting pension ($145,647) as a percent of her salary when she applied for retirement ($156,728 in 2007) is 94%
Year Salary % increase
2007 156,728.15 6.95%
2008 185,673.81 18.47%
2009 185,673.90 0%
2010 196,814.24 6.0%
2011 208,623.10 6.0%
- Starting pension on 8/1/2011 was $12,137.27/month or $145,647.24 annually.
- Current pension as of Feb. 2015 is $13,457.41/month or $161,488.92 annually.
- Belha had 37 years of service credit plus 1.97 year for unused sick-leave credit
- Her service included 10 years purchased credit for out of system service.
- From TRS, she received a $28,105 refund ($23,784.95 for “2.2 refund” and $4,320.21 for not using the early retirement option)
From CUSD 200, she received lump sum payments of $32,889.26 ($25,200 for 59 vacation days and $7688 for 18 sick leave days)
For comparison, if the final end of career raises had been 0%, 0%, 0%, 20%
- Her salary in 2007 to 2010 would all have been 156,728.15
- In 2011 her salary would have been $159,862.71
- Total salary paid by the district would have been $146,737.89 less
- And her pension would be 81.1% of what it is. (Based on the percent difference in the average salary for the final four years worked).
These excessive raises cost the district $200,761. ($146,737.89 in excess salary and $54,023.61 in penalties).
It has been costing the TRS $27,513 per year retired so far plus a 3% COLA (in 2015 it cost $30,506)
For four years that is approximately $116,038.
See our previous post on the same subject: https://dupagewatchdog.org/2015/02/cusd-200-sorrick-belha-admin-retirement-games-costs-taxpayers/