‘Double dipping’ at school continues to cost city taxpayers

Posted at 12:57 AM, Nov 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-01 00:57:58-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - The practice of getting both a pension check and a paycheck is commonly called "double dipping." For retirees, it's a good deal, if they can get it. But what is the practice costing city taxpayers?

More than a year ago, a CBS 6 investigation exposed the double dipping going on within the Richmond Public Schools system. In April 2012, CBS 6 investigative reporter Catie Beck discovered there were 332 retirees working in the Richmond Public School system. That equates to roughly 15 percent of the workforce.

In response to that investigation, a Richmond Public Schools spokeswoman said the retirees hired by the school system were being used appropriately - on a temporary basis.

Eight months later, a new Richmond School Board chairman told Beck retirees were being overused, but the problem was improving.

In February 2013, the number of retirees working for Richmond schools had decreased to 297.

Fast forward another eight months

Richmond entered the 2013-14 school year with a new interim superintendent, but are old problems resurfacing?

In October 2013, Beck counted 331 retirees working for Richmond schools.

"It's absurd to believe that the number has gone up since we've had all the controversy,"  Richmond School Board member Kim Gray said in reaction to Beck's findings.

Beck took her questions to interim Richmond Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Lewis.

"Do you think we're over utilizing retirees right now?" Beck asked.

"Yes. Yes I do," he replied.

At what cost

Richmond Public Schools recently paid a hefty price after the state learned the school system had been overusing one retiree. The retiree, who worked as the school system's chief of staff, commanded a six-figure salary. Since he worked more hours than allowed by a retiree not paying into the retirement system, Richmond schools had to pay money into the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).

In June, Richmond Public Schools sent VRS a check for $36,000.

Richmond School Board members said they were not aware of the payment.

"We had public taxpayer dollars used without school board knowledge or approval and that's a serious problem," Richmond School Board member Glen Sturtevant said.

Questioning Dr. Lewis

"Nothing came to the public's attention or even to the board's attention to say 'hey we just paid a big fine because we didn't follow the rules?' Do you think that was the right way to manage that?" Beck asked Dr. Lewis.

"That really isn't so much a question of retirees it's more how the district communicates with the public. Again I've only been here a short time and I don't think it's appropriate for me to speak to past administrations," Dr. Lewis said.

In the past?

It seems the practices in question are not entirely in the past.

Beck found a retiree who most recently served as an interim principal. She found that the retiree has held a number of jobs with the school system since her 2003 retirement.

That employee, Beck discovered, has made $500,000 in retirement and still earns a six-figure salary for her role as a temporary administrator.

"Bringing people back for decades after they retired is unacceptable," Gray said.

What are you going to do about it?

Government watchdog Paul Goldman said the problem is that the public accept the practice of retirees going back to work and "double dipping" the system.

"The reason they keep trying to get away with this is because they think you don't care and so far they're the ones laughing all the way to the bank aren't they," Goldman said.

He called upon the citizens of Richmond to hold their elected leaders accountable for their actions.