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New Pinellas school superintendent drawing pension and salary

As Pinellas County's new school superintendent, Mike Grego earns top dollar.

He receives a $240,000 yearly salary, a $750 monthly car allowance and an annual contribution to a retirement plan worth 10 percent of his base pay. The total tab for taxpayers is $273,000.

But that's not all taxpayers are footing the bill for.

Grego, 55, who has more than 30 years of experience in state education, also receives a state pension worth $7,555 a month, or $90,660 a year. His pension was disclosed during private contract negotiations with the School Board, but it was never mentioned in public meetings.

Board members unanimously approved his contract Tuesday with little discussion.

On Thursday, Grego said his retirement was a "personal issue." He said he and his wife agreed he should retire in June 2011 after he left his job as superintendent of Osceola County Schools. The couple had children in school.

"We didn't really know what the future would hold," he said. "My first priority was caring for my family."

Drawing a state pension while working on the state payroll — a practice known as "double dipping" — has been controversial in Florida for years. The state's Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, used to allow state workers to "retire" for one month and then return to their old jobs, drawing both a salary and a pension. Participants agreed to retire after five years.

In many cases, workers in DROP also received sizable lump sum payouts.

Many elected officials took advantage of the loophole, leaving for one month and then returning to their positions.

Lawmakers have tightened the rules since 2009, forcing employees to stay off the public payroll for six months before resuming their old jobs. Retirees also can't earn a second state pension if they resume work.

Grego retired, but he never enrolled in DROP, he said, though it would have been more lucrative. But he said he doesn't believe superintendents should participate because the program dictates when they leave.

"I believe as superintendent I should serve at the pleasure of the School Board," he said.

Several board members said Thursday that they had no problem with Grego earning a salary from the school district and drawing his state retirement at the same time.

Board chairwoman Robin Wikle, who negotiated the contract with board attorney David Koperski, said they did take Grego's pension into consideration. She was satisfied with the "happy medium" reached by the two parties, she said.

"Proven, successful superintendents don't grow on trees," she said.

Board member Glenton Gilzean said he toured schools with Grego on Thursday and already was impressed by what he'd seen.

"He is running a $1.2 billion operation (and) just like a CEO who has to run and manage that operation he should be fairly compensated," he said. "I think it's worth it."

Board member Terry Krassner said she was comfortable with Grego's contract. She noted that the school district won't have to pay into the Florida Retirement System on his behalf because Grego already has a pension.

For past superintendents, the district paid into the state retirement system and an additional tax-sheltered plan. Grego will get the tax-sheltered plan.

Koperski said not paying into the state retirement system saves the district money.

Board member Carol Cook called Grego's retirement a "non-issue." He's earning a higher salary than former superintendent Julie Janssen — who made about $200,000 a year — but has fewer perks in his contract, she said.

Janssen received $1,150 a month for a car and communication allowance. Grego's car allowance is $750 a month. If Grego is fired without cause, he also will be entitled to a much lower payout than Janssen received.

Plus, he has more experience than previous superintendents, Cook said.

"I think it's a fair contract all the way around," she said.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com, (727) 893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

New Pinellas school superintendent drawing pension and salary 09/27/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012 11:54pm]
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