Sick leave payouts may get scrutiny
Prompted by the pending payout to fired Pinellas Superintendent Julie Janssen, state Board of Education member Roberto Martinez said this week he will ask the board to discuss state and district policies that allow employees to amass unlimited amounts of unused sick leave - and then pay for it when they retire. Martinez was cautious in his wording and made it clear he had not reached any conclusions. But he said the amounts in Janssen's case merited giving the policies a closer look.
“Obviously we’re talking about the expenditure of taxpayer funds in an area where resources have been limited," Martinez told The Gradebook. "We have an obligation … to see whether or not the practice in this area is a prudent one. And whether it’s statewide or not."
"I don’t want to jump conclusions here," he continued. "I want to be better informed. (As a BOE member) I think you have an obligation to look at a lot of things and ask a lot of questions. Some things may go nowhere. Some things may require action. Here, what caught my attention was the amount of money. It’s not like we’re talking about an industry that’s flush with cash.”
The Pinellas school district is due to pay Janssen $199,998 for 168 of unused sick leave and 60 days of unused vacation time. Her case is at least the third this year involving big payouts to former Florida superintendents. Broward County's Jim Notter received $241,149 worth of sick and vacation time when he retired this year. Palm Beach County's Art Johnson received $158,223 when he left.
State law allows teachers to earn one day of sick leave per month, and to accumulate as much as they can. Districts set policies on compensation for that unused leave when teachers retire, subject to some constraints in state law. Districts also set similar policies for administrators, but they're subject to different constraints.
Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando County teachers union, said BOE members and lawmakers who may be scrutinizing those policies in the wake of the big superintendent payouts should keep in mind that retiring teachers are getting a modest benefit.
"Whoever's looking at this has to be very, very careful not to lump all of us into one," he said. "We kind of take a lower pay in many ways than the private sector does, and the tradeoff is these benefits."