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‘Use it or lose it’ must be enacted

Published: Sun, August 25, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

The recent act of generosity by Dr. Cynthia Anderson, retired Youngstown State University president, unfortunately was overshadowed by the obscenity that is the public-sector retirement system. Not only are the pensions drawn by public employees in Anderson’s strata unconscionable, but retirees walk away with jaw-dropping severance checks.

Thus, when Anderson announced that she was donating her $117,555 sayonara pay to a scholarship fund she created several years ago in memory of her parents, the amount caused this writer to cry out in despair, “Will this madness never end?”

The answer, of course, is that the madness is an integral part of the system — as evidenced by the number of prominent local public figures who have ended their careers laughing all the way to the bank.

But before strolling down memory lane, let’s take a peek at Anderson’s compensation file.

When she was appointed president on July 1, 2010, her salary skyrocketed from $142,256 (in her position as vice president for student affairs) to $350,000. In the second year at the helm, she earned $375,000; in the third, $400,000.

Entertainment expenses

The figures did not include the value of a vehicle she got from the university, professional dues and travel and entertainment expenses.

Anderson retired on July 1 of this year, and while her pension is confidential, it’s a safe bet she’s pulling in quite a pile of dough.

In calculating pensions, the State Teachers Retirement System uses the following formula: 2.2 percent of the number of years of service provides the percentage multiplier to be applied to the average of the three highest years of salary.

In addition, for the 31st year of service, the pension payment is increased by 2.5 percent, and for each subsequent year by one-tenth of a percent.

Considering that Anderson retired after 34 years and the average of the three highest annual salaries was $375,000, her pension could be (emphasis on the word could) … (You, dear private sector worker, will have the pleasure of calculating the pension.)

Only the former president of YSU knows how much she’s making in retirement, so if the guesstimate is wrong perhaps she’ll come forward with the actual amount.

After all, she has shown a willingness to share — as in contributing her severance pay to the Lawrence R. and Garnet P. Anderson Scholarship Fund.

So, how did she wind up with the separation pay? By claiming $76,924 in unused sick time and $40,631 in unused vacation time.

But before Anderson is burned in effigy, consider her predecessor, Dr. David Sweet, who was at YSU for 10 years as president.

Sweet claimed $60,276 in unused sick time and $37,959 in unused vacation. He walked away with a check for $98,235.

But wait.

Remember Dr. Wendy Webb, the former superintendent of the Youngstown City School District whose tenure was an abject failure?

Webb, with a background in library science, walked away with $111,153 in severance pay.

She claimed 285 days of sick leave, 56 personal days and 72 vacation days.

During her six-plus years as superintendent, the Youngstown district was in state-mandated fiscal and academic emergency. It was the worst district in the state.

Then there was Dr. Kathryn Hellweg, former superintendent of Warren city schools, who left after six years with a check for $101,000. The school board paid her $55,000 to buy out the last five months of her contract, and another $46,000 in separation pay and unused vacation.


The bottom line is that being a public employee not only means looking forward to a pension that is more lucrative than what the average private- sector worker receives, but leaving with a severance check that is based on the fallacy that people who don’t take sick leave or vacation days are somehow entitled to the money.

So, why won’t the Legislature enact a “use-it-or-lose- it” provision for all public employees? Because many senators and representatives invariably end up in government jobs and, therefore, aren’t willing to kill the goose that’s laying the golden eggs.

A constitutional amendment to end the madness may be our best hope.

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