Spiking the Pension?

Pension spiking, sometimes referred to as "salary spiking", is the process whereby public sector employees grant themselves large raises or otherwise artificially inflate their compensation in the years immediately preceding retirement in order to receive larger pensions than they otherwise would be entitled to receive. This inflates the pension payments to the retirees and, upon retirement of the "spikee", transfers the burden of making payments from the employee's employer to a public pension fund. This practice is considered a significant contributor to the high cost of public sector pensions.

- Wikipedia

In March 2015, then LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines met with parents and educators to discuss their concerns about LAUSD’s special education programs. During this meeting, Cortines announced that the District’s head of Special Education, Sharyn Howell would be retiring. After the room erupted into applause, Cortines admonished the attendees for what he considered their rudeness. It seemed strange to me at the time that he was surprised by this expression of joy as it had already been made clear how the District’s leadership had lost the confidence of this group. Howell had steam-rolled over their concerns to implement changes, including moving towards the closure of special education centers, which those in the room felt harmed the most vulnerable students in the District.

Knowing that Howell was on her way out, it was surprising to see during the Board meeting last summer that Cortines was recommending that she receive a promotion and a raise. According to my source, at least one Board member questioned the Superintendent and was assured that Howell was not retiring. Cortines also stressed that she deserved the raise because of the savings that she rung out of the division. If these savings had been achieved through the cutting of wasteful programs, this would have been commendable and this raise would have been well deserved. Unfortunately, Howell’s cuts had eliminated needed programs and negatively affected the students that she was supposed to serve.

Taking the Superintendent at his word, the Board approved Howell’s raise and promoted the Executive Director to Associate Superintendent. To the dismay of the community, it seemed that the retirement was off, but was it?

Earlier this week as I sat in the Boardroom, Howell was standing behind me and someone congratulated her on her retirement. Less than a year after her promotion, Howell is once again ready to leave the District, but this time with a larger pension. So much for an emphasis on cost savings.

I wonder if the District will replace Howell with former Flint emergency manager Ed Kurtz. He also has a solid record on saving money at the expense of children.


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