TALLAHASSEE — More than 8,000 state employees are double-dipping, but a distinct minority of 101 others have chosen not to take advantage of the loophole in state law.
Some say they know it's legal, but they consider double-dipping a scam and chose to put right ahead of dollars. In all, this group has forfeited a total of $8.6-million.
St. Petersburg College president Carl Kuttler forfeited $527,000.
Manatee Community College president Sarah Pappas forfeited $300,000.
Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell forfeited $630,000 — the most of the 101 who walked away from money the state had deposited in their Deferred Retirement Option Program accounts.
Employees who join DROP can stay on the state payroll five years and have their retirement benefits deposited into an account that pays 6.5 percent interest. After five years, the employee is supposed to leave the payroll, collect a lump sum DROP payment and start drawing a monthly retirement check.
An employee that remains on the job is supposed to forfeit the DROP benefit, but lawmakers carved exemptions that have allowed people to leave work for 30 days, come back and draw not only their salary, but a monthly retirement check and the lump sum DROP benefit.
Of the more than 8,000 double-dippers, 4,101 also collected the DROP benefit.
Kuttler couldn't do it. He said he and his board at St. Petersburg College decided they didn't want to "participate in a scam.''
"It bothered me that the law says you can't have a predetermined agreement to return, and everyone had an agreement anyway,'' Kuttler said. "I know that's not what the Legislature intended.''
He forfeited $527,000. "If I were interested in the money, I would have taken my DROP money and come back to work in 30 days,'' said Kuttler, who makes about $385,000 in pay and benefits.
Kuttler said he has not allowed other administrators at his college "to game the system,'' either. Other universities have dozens of "double-dippers,'' making high salaries, but St. Petersburg College has only six, all part-time clerical and custodial employees who make less than $25,000 a year.
Manatee Community College president Pappas planned to retire in 2003, but her board members wanted her to stick around. She could have taken a short vacation from the job, collected a monthly pension check, her salary and a $300,000 DROP bonus.
"I talked it over with my college attorney, part of it appealed to me, but I couldn't live with it,'' Pappas recalls. "I wasn't comfortable, it just seemed hokey. We knew technically it was legal, but it didn't seem right.''
She dropped out of DROP and forfeited $300,000. She plans to retire this summer from her $210,000 a year job.
Karl Stevens, an associate dean at the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Florida Atlantic University, entered the DROP program with plans to retire because his wife was ill. After her death, Stevens wanted to keep working. Rather than take a month off and work part time for a year, he forfeited $232,196 in DROP money and accepted the job as dean of the college in 2005.
Florida State University president Wetherell said he decided against collecting his $630,000 in DROP money because he had been reading about it in the newspapers and didn't need "the hassle.''
Wetherell has allowed 69 FSU employees to return to work after they "retired,'' but he says many came back in part-time positions making less than when they left.
Not everyone who dropped out of DROP had such an easy time of it.
Dr. Manoug Manougian, a math professor at the University of South Florida, said he signed up for DROP but decided he did not want to retire. When he tried to withdraw from the program, he was told he had no choice but to stay in it and retire.
He hired an attorney and got to keep his job, but he had to forfeit $165,696.
"Had I been told that I could return to my department, I certainly would have taken the lump sum, stayed away for a month and then returned to my earlier position,'' says Manougian.
"It's distressing to see colleagues being given what was denied to me through lack of understanding of the DROP program by our administration. I am happy where I am now. No regrets.''