Retirement has been lucrative for a Jersey Shore superintendent who has spent nearly two decades taking high-paid temporary school leadership jobs, while continuing to collect $1.7 million in pension benefits in that time.
Although technically retired for the last 19 years, Asbury Park schools chief Robert Mahon has spent much of his time working as an “interim” superintendent in 10 different school districts. That has allowed him to take home six-figure salaries on top of a six-figure annual pension.
It is an arrangement critics call “double-dipping.” But Mahon doesn’t see it that way.
“It isn’t really double-dipping,” he said.
“I’m doing a job for the salary that I’m paid and it is on a per diem basis," he added. "And I recognize that I’m filling a need. What I bring to a district is administrative experience.”
During Mahon’s retirement, he has served as interim superintendent in Brielle, Farmingdale, Bradley Beach, Little Egg Harbor, Red Bank, Barnegat, Spring Lake Heights, Manasquan and now Asbury Park.
The I-Team has partnered with the investigative news website New Jersey Watchdog to track interim superintendents that collect public salaries and public retirement benefits at the same time. According to employment records obtained by NJ Watchdog, Mahon is one of dozens of interims engaged in the practice.
Boards of education usually hire interim superintendents to guide school districts while they search for more permanent leadership. But sometimes, interims are hired -- to replace other interims.
After Mahon left his job as the interim superintendent of the Manasquan school district last year, another interim administrator, Renae LaPrete, filled his seat.
LaPrete was hired by Manasquan in July at a salary of $157,500 a year. That is on top of her $104,253 annual pension. Before LaPrete took the temporary job in Manasquan, she had also been an interim superintendent in three other New Jersey school districts.
LaPrete defended the practice of allowing interim superintendents to come back from retirement while still collecting full pension benefits.
“I didn’t make that decision to allow interims -- the state did,” she said.
Under New Jersey state law, teachers are not allowed to keep collecting their full pension benefits if they come out of retirement to teach full time. That restriction, though, does not apply to superintendents. They are allowed to work as interims for up to two years in a district without relinquishing their pension benefits.
And there is no limit to how many different districts a retired superintendent can work in over time.
LaPrete said she believes local taxpayers actually save money when districts hire retired administrators because their health benefits are already paid. The statewide New Jersey Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund covers health care costs for retired superintendents – even while they are actively employed as full-time interim administrators.
“It’s a savings until they find a new superintendent because you don’t have to pay them benefits,” LaPrete said.
Though local taxpayers may save on health benefit costs, statewide taxpayers are not off the hook. As of last year, the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund had more than $25 billion in unfunded liabilities.
In his budget address last month, Gov. Christie said unfunded liabilities in the state’s retirement system threaten New Jersey’s ability to pay for the services taxpayers expect.
"We are failing our taxpayers when we fail to honestly address these problems," Christie said.
“But as time goes on, pension payments will take a larger and larger share of the budget."
To plug the pension gap, Christie has called on teachers and administrators to pay more into their own retirements. But when interim superintendents are already retired, by definition, they no longer contribute.