State records show that former Illinois education superintendent Christopher Koch left his role earlier in the year with $207,000 in severance and unused vacation time.
A public records request by the Chicago Tribune found Koch left the position, taking with him $89,000 in severance and $118,000 for 138.5 unused vacation days. The investigation discovered that several dozen other State Board of Education employees left the agency while it transitioned to a new leader to oversee public schools in the state while receiving large bonuses and money for unused vacation, sick and personal days totaling roughly $500,000. Meanwhile, many school districts in Illinois were dealing with deficits.
Diane Rado for The Chicago Tribune reports that the total may actually be higher because not all payouts are cut and clear. For example, according to state comptroller records, two top ISBE administrators left the agency in September but continue to collect regular paychecks.
It was also discovered that unused sick days are not always cashed out, but are sometimes moved to a government pension plan that adds on to an employee’s years of service in order to allow them to retire earlier. According to TRS, 127 such days were transferred for Koch to the state’s Teacher’s Retirement System, while 248 were moved for former deputy superintendent Susan Morrison.
Koch held the position for over eight years, only leaving it in May after GOP Governor Bruce Rauner took office and recommended superintendent Tony Smith for the job.
When lawmakers questioned why Koch received severance pay because he left the position only when his term was over, ISBE officials noted that Koch had “served the state honorably for over 20 years.”
However, State Representative David Harris said the payments could cause trouble.
“These are public dollars, and we’re in a tight situation. As a matter of policy, these things ought to be looked at and have some rationality,” Harris said.
He has previously questioned Koch’s severance payment, and as for vacation payouts, “I am of the use-it-or-lose-it group,” Harris said. “The vacation days are there to take a vacation, and there is a benefit to taking vacation. If you choose not to, that is your decision … but that doesn’t mean you should bank the stuff.”
Separately, a hearing was held over the summer by the House State Government Administration Committee after the Tribune reported a perk included in Smith’s contract worth thousands of dollars on top of his $225,000 salary.
The board maintains that Smith needed the extra compensation in order to match Koch’s retirement plan. Smith’s plan is on a lesser scale than Koch’s in an effort to control pension costs.