Buckeye school board member raises concerns on allowing superintendents to “double-dip”

A superintendent of Liberty Elementary School District 25 in Buckeye is receiving a salary and a pension and that's not sitting well with a school board member.
Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 5:59 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Lori Shough just retired as superintendent of Liberty Elementary School District 25, which serves Goodyear and Buckeye. A day later, she was rehired in the same position, so she could receive her pension benefits and keep getting a six-figure paycheck.

And that doesn’t sit well with Bryan Parks, one of two Liberty Elementary School Board members that voted against the double-dipping. “I don’t think it’s fair that we have superintendents dipping into retirement when they are making 5x the salaries that teachers are,” said Parks.

It turns out double-dipping is fairly common, with roughly 60 superintendents across the state retiring, then getting retired by the same school district. About 20 years ago, the Arizona legislature passed a “return to work” law designed to help school districts retain longtime teachers eligible for their state pensions but not ready to retire yet.

Paul Tighe is executive director of the School Administrators Association. He said that hiring back teachers and administrators is fairly common and actually saves the district money because the cost of benefits for that employee is a bit less.

“In many cases its a win-win,” said Tighe. “Districts can actually save money and help veteran employees, whether its a teacher, principal or superintendent. They can keep them in the organization to help provide leadership and veteran services.”

Superintendent Shough provided Arizona’s Family with these statements:

“I have served as an educator in Arizona for 37 years as a teacher, instructional coach, principal, and district leader. No matter the level of responsibility, my purpose never changes. Our children deserve to have every option available to them as they pursue further education and careers, and it’s our collective job to make sure we provide them with an exemplary education.”

“State statute equitably allows any employee to return to work as a contracted employee. Contracted employees in our district are compensated at a lesser amount to provide budget savings for the district and to cover the cost of the third party contractor fees. Additionally, districts and ultimately, tax payers, save even more money because districts do not have to pay employer-related expenses such as 12.17% to Arizona State Retirement System for contracted employees. The “return to work” system is a cost saving option for districts.”

“The legislators made an important change to the system that requires districts to contribute to the state retirement system for “retired” employees who return to work (ARS 38-766.02). This legislation protected the health of Arizona’s retirement system by making the return to work practice cost neutral. As long as there are cost savings for districts, no costs to taxpayers, and no negative impact to the pension system, then I think it is a viable system that helps districts retain employees.”

Parks is not convinced. He has reached out to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, raising questions about whether “double-dipping” with school superintendents is legal. “Even if its legal, is it the right thing to do?” Parks said. “It’s not the right thing to do.”