Del Mar school district employees accept supplemental retirement plan

By Marsha Sutton
Senior Education Writer

Seventeen employees of the Del Mar Union School District took advantage of the Supplemental Employee Retirement Plan this year, which offers 75 percent of their salary to anyone over age 55 who has worked at least two years in the district, said DMUSD superintendent Jim Peabody.

Employees who applied for SERP this year had to resign by June 30, 2011 and are not eligible to be rehired by the district in a salaried position.

Susan Fitzpatrick, principal of Del Mar Hills Academy, was one employee who took advantage of SERP and will be leaving the district June 30. Instead of retiring though, she will be assuming a position in another district, which is allowed under the conditions of SERP, as long as she no longer works in the DMUSD, Peabody said.

“She is eligible to work and still collect the supplement from us, but not her pension,” Peabody said.

Had Fitzpatrick chosen to retire, she would also have been eligible to receive pension money from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, known as CalSTRS, and SERP would have been in addition to those benefits.

“If she took her STRS payments, it [SERP] is on top of that,” Peabody said. “But if she takes her STRS payments, she can’t work in California.”

Fitzpatrick said she originally intended to retire, but a job offer came after she applied for SERP that she chose to accept. She said she could not take advantage of CalSTRS if she continued to work, but could still take SERP after leaving Del Mar. “If I didn’t work, then I could have both,” she said.

In a May 2 letter to Del Mar Hills parents, Fitzpatrick, who was hired by the district in December 2008, said that the DMUSD Board of Trustees approved “a generous School Employees Retirement Plan (SERP) to all district employees.” This early retirement incentive, she wrote, affords districts “the opportunity to reward long-term, higher-salaried employees a reward while opening up positions to less experienced, qualified applicants.”

In her letter, she said she “elected to take advantage of this opportunity” after reviewing the benefits of SERP. She thanked the parents for “including me in your lives” and called her time at the Hills “the ‘cherry on top’ of my career.”

In an interview, Fitzpatrick said, “I was going to take the retirement because it’s a really good package and it’s similar to what other districts have offered. I was going to do that and retire. But a superintendent I had worked for previously contacted me, and it was a golden opportunity. So I said okay, I’ll put off the retirement for a little bit longer.”

Fitzpatrick accepted an offer to be the assistant superintendent of business services for the El Centro School District in Imperial County, beginning July 1, at an annual salary of $114,000.

Her salary in Del Mar is $120,519, which is the highest pay (Step 5) on the district’s certificated administrators (principals) salary schedule. SERP pays 75 percent of this salary, so she will be receiving about $90,000 which she chose to accept in monthly payments of about $1,500 for five years. Employees can receive the full 75 percent of their salary through SERP regardless of whether they worked at the district for two years or many decades.

Peabody said the district offered the supplemental retirement plan as a cost-savings incentive. “The bottom line for the district is that we’ll save about $320,000 over five years because of the amount of people we had retire,” he said.

SERPs are commonly offered by school districts to urge veteran, higher-paid employees to retire. Those employees can then be replaced with younger workers who come in at a lower pay scale.

Another principal will replace Fitzpatrick, Peabody said, at a salary from $100,709 (Step 1 on DMUSD’s principal salary schedule) to $120,519 (Step 5).

“We will replace with a principal, and that would be the shortest break we would get,” he said. “In other words, the difference between a principal coming and a principal leaving isn’t going to be too great.”

He said there will be a small savings with that position, “but not much.” The bulk of the savings to the district comes from the other employees who resigned, he said.

Of the 17 employees who opted for one of several payment plans under SERP, two will be paid their SERP money from the district’s general fund. The money for the other 15 will come from the Federal Education Jobs Fund, the purpose of which is to save school site employees’ jobs, Peabody said.

“Every district in the country got the funding last year,” he said in an email. “We used it to offset health benefits and to do the SERP.” DMUSD’s allotment was $763,852, he said.

The two employees who will be paid their supplemental retirement money from the district’s general fund work at the district office rather than a school site and so do not qualify for the Federal Education Jobs Fund.

“The [federal] funds must be spent on school employees,” Peabody said, adding that the “general fund money is recouped by employee savings.”

The plan was offered to everyone, not just school site staff, he said, because the school board “wanted to be fair to all employees.”

Related posts:

  1. Del Mar Union School District trustees extend Peabody’s contract
  2. Del Mar school district facing possible budget cuts
  3. New principal for Del Mar Hills
  4. Judge rejects SD City Employees’ Retirement System lawsuit
  5. Del Mar Union School board authorizes district plan

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Posted by Staff on Jun 16, 2011. Filed under News, Schools. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

5 Comments for “Del Mar school district employees accept supplemental retirement plan”

  1. Carli

    Thanks to Marsha Sutton, another important issue comes to light.

    DMUSD needs to make better decisions than handing out severance packages (regardless of the funding source) to employees like Susan Fitzpatrick, who has only been with the district for two years, and was by most accounts (parents and teachers alike) someone who did not contribute much to Del Mar Hills. Replacing her position will surely cost the district money, especially if there's a headhunter used in the hiring process. It would make much more sense for the district to job-share this position with another principal, a move that would truly save money. We can't fault Susan for taking advantage of such a sweetheart deal, but for her to say that being principal at Del Mar Hills (for all of two years) was the "cherry on top" of her career is certainly disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst, especially since she was telling friends that she had another job very soon after deciding to retire.

    Sigh. And the dysfunction at DMUSD continues, even after we thought there might be hope. DMUSD, please use our money more wisely in the future!!

  2. Lynnea

    Clearly this person doesn't know what they are talking about…just in the simple fact that Del Mar did not need to use a head hunter to get a new principal. Susan Fitzpatrick has done a fantastic job connecting with the community and serving the Hills staff, children and parents! She will be missed!

  3. GRM

    The point is not whether or not Ms. Fitzpatrick was a good principal. We should guard against that debate in this case. The fact is that the whole SERP program and companion "health care cost stipend" that was also recommended by the superintendent and approved by the board are an huge and shameful waste of $726,000 dollars from the federal government in the form of Education Jobs Funds. There were no substantive questions from any trustee at the Feb board meeting about the very weak financial analysis that was provided by the Dir of Finance, and the presentation by the Financial Services company was not transparent as to the true cost of the program. Shame on this board for being led by the nose, and, as much as Dr. Peabody has done to help the district get back to a stable management, clearly his strength is not in finance or budgeting. What a waste of 3/4 of a million dollars! That is about equal to what all the parents in the district have donated to the Foundation in an average year. Hopefully the district is not wasting those dollars too, but you've got to wonder….

  4. carli

    Yes, GRM, you're absolutely right – we should be careful not to derail the issue by discussing Ms. Fitzpatrick's weak performance and her very brief tenure as principal at DM Hills. However, I can tell you many parents feel burned when they hear about the retirement package that she thought was an offer too good to refuse (even though she had no intention of retiring for years) shortly followed by news of her job in another district. Ouch.

    Still, I agree that the real tragedy is the waste of federal dollars and the weak financial skills of district management. Hope you spoke up at February's Board of Trustees meeting to express your valid concerns.

  5. inside scoop

    As a former DM Hills Employee. The negative comments about Susan NEEDS TO STOP. Parents from DM HILLS Need to fix there personal problems at home and within there marriage before trying to fix there community. FYI,

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