Investigative Report by Mark Lagerkvist Posted on March 24, 2014
The NJ Department of Education paid Coyle $151,862 last year as a “special services” employee. The retired Jersey City school executive also collects a $73,765 annual pension from the state.
Coyle is not alone. The state agency’s Special Services Unit Q has become a haven for double-dippers who game the pension system with the knowledge of the Christie Administration.
A New Jersey Watchdog investigation found:
- Two-thirds of NJDOE’S top 60 Unit Q special services workers collect state pensions.
- Those 40 employees collected roughly $5.9 million last year – nearly $2.9 million in state pay plus almost $3 million from retirement checks.
- Thirty-eight of the double-dippers have six-figure incomes. Five receive more than $200,000 a year.
To all but insiders, Unit Q is a mystery. It is not on NJDOE’s organizational chart, and the special services job title is nowhere to be found on the state Civil Service Commission web site. While all of the temps have the same title on the state payroll, they work in a variety of roles that don’t necessarily involve special education.
“Temporary employment services employees are paid by the day, paid only for the days they work and receive no benefits,” explained NJDOE spokesman Michael Yarple in an email to New Jersey Watchdog. “(They) are part-time. Some are retirees, some are not.”
What they do get is the ability to collect big state paychecks while circumventing rules intended to protect pension funds from being drained by retired officials who are still employed. The unit sails under the public’s radar, so workers have been double-dipping without much notice.
Typically, an educator’s retirement benefits are supposed to be suspended if the retiree returns to work in a school-related job. But pension rules also give authorities wide discretion in deciding which employees are temporary, as well as power to waive other restrictions.
Coyle, for example, is executive director of NJDOE’s Regional Achievement Center in Essex and Hudson counties. While she may be deemed temporary, Frank Grossman – the RAC executive director in a neighboring region – is considered a permanent employee. Grossman receives a $125,000 salary; he is not retired and does not collect a state pension.
In addition to Coyle, there are four other retired Unit Q workers who double-dipped more than $200,000 in 2013. They are:
- Ronald Karsen, $216,416 – $118,500 in pay as a RAC executive director plus $97,916 from pension as retiree of Newark Public Schools.
- Kathleen Serafino, $213,103 – $99,360 as Somerset County executive school superintendent plus $113,743 as retired superintendent of Nutley schools.
- Josephine McDowell, $201,617 – $110,110 as a RAC “turnaround coach” plus $91,517 as a retired Newark school executive.
- S. Michael Littlejohn, $201,535 – $116,700 as a RAC “school leadership coach” plus $84,835 as a retired Jersey City teacher.
Six of the part-time temps are retired school administrators who returned to work as county school superintendents – Serafino, Thomas Dowd, Richard Stepura, Joseph Zarra, Gerald Vernotica and Samuel Stewart.
The ranks of top Unit Q workers also include five NJDOE retirees back on the departmental payroll as special services employees.
Retired educators are not the only pensioners in Unit Q. Five State Police retirees and two retired Trenton city cops have also returned to the public trough to conduct internal investigations.
“This is a more cost-effective approach than having to hire and train investigators and also pay for their benefits,” said Yaple.
Overall, 28 of the top 40 Unit Q double-dippers — 70 percent – receive their retirement checks from the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund, the state retirement plan that faces the biggest deficit.
TPAF has an unfunded liability of $23 billion, according to state Treasury’s latest figures. That represents nearly half of the shortfall for all state pension funds, now totaling $51 billion.
Yaple noted other state agencies have their own Unit Q temps. “It’s not just unique to NJDOE,” he said.
But it’s the Department of Education part-timers who get the biggest paychecks. All nine of the state’s Unit Q temps paid in excess of $100,000 last year were employed by NJDOE, including two not collect pensions.
Here is New Jersey Watchdog’s list of the 40 NJDOE Unit Q double-dippers who received more than $30,000 in pay plus retirement checks in 2013. It was compiled from the Treasury’s payroll and pension databases:
|NAME||DOE PAY||PENSION||TOTAL||EMPLOYER AT RETIREMENT|
|COYLE, CATHERINE V||$151,862||$73,765||$225,627||Jersey City PS|
|BORKES, FRANCES||$124,000||$58,383||$182,383||Middlesex Co Vocational|
|KARSEN, RONALD K||$118,500||$97,916||$216,416||Newark PS|
|LITTLEJOHN, S MICHAEL||$116,700||$84,835||$201,535||Jersey City PS|
|MCDOWELL, JOSEPHINE||$110,100||$91,517||$201,617||Newark PS|
|STEPURA, RICHARD M||$105,294||$79,708||$185,002||Northfield BOE|
|DOWD, THOMAS||$101,660||$87,357||$189,017||Bloomfield Twp BOE|
|SERAFINO, KATHLEEN C||$99,360||$113,743||$213,103||Nutley BOE|
|BANKS, SPRING J||$95,750||$64,299||$160,049||Essex Co Vocational|
|OKUM, ILIANA||$95,400||$58,637||$154,037||Pemberton Twp BOE|
|VOORHEES, PATRICIA J||$94,250||$40,469||$134,719||State Dept of Education|
|RESTIVO, JOANNE M||$94,224||$35,461||$129,685||Office of Administrative Law|
|MCMAHON, THOMAS C||$87,450||$78,257||$165,707||West Essex Regional|
|VOLK, CELIA A||$81,673||$52,960||$134,633||State Dept of Education|
|KATZMAR, LEWIS P||$80,045||$47,052||$127,097||Upper Deerfield Twp BOE|
|DUNN, KAREN M||$78,275||$72,571||$150,846||Union Twp BOE|
|ALTERSITZ, AVE||$73,535||$69,096||$142,631||Kingsway Regional|
|RAMOS, JOSEPH||$71,820||$100,440||$172,260||Guttenberg Boro BOE|
|POPE, PATRICIA A||$67,025||$79,279||$146,304||Hoboken BOE|
|HENDRICK, RENA G||$65,793||$61,591||$127,384||West New York BOE|
|WINKLER, PAUL B||$56,866||$47,368||$104,234||Lower Camden Regional|
|VESPUCCI, RICHARD J||$56,550||$47,136||$103,686||State Dept of Education|
|MADISON, GUY M||$56,350||$85,965||$142,315||State Police|
|DILORENZO, JOHN||$55,098||$83,774||$138,872||State Police|
|SCARINGELLI, JAMES||$54,126||$92,294||$146,420||Trenton City|
|HACKETT, KEITH||$53,600||$82,106||$135,706||State Police|
|ZARRA, JOSEPH S||$53,360||$92,849||$146,209||Nutley BOE|
|GALE, JEFFREY G||$53,159||$89,577||$142,736||State Police|
|VERNOTICA, GERALD J||$53,130||$100,795||$153,925||Washington Twp BOE|
|STEWART, SAMUEL B||$52,900||$76,907||$129,807||South Brunswick BOE|
|KANZ, JAMES P||$51,220||$81,610||$132,830||State Police|
|LUCHERINI, RICHARD||$50,935||$76,098||$127,033||Trenton City|
|LAZUR, MICHAEL A||$47,821||$79,360||$127,181||State Police|
|FROHNAPFEL, DENNIS R||$44,800||$122,499||$167,299||Garfield BOE|
|TANNER, MARYJANE||$44,450||$65,050||$109,500||State Dept of Education|
|MCFADDEN, VINCENT||$43,350||$99,107||$142,457||Hudson County Tech|
|SARGENTI, JOANNE C||$37,738||$15,344||$53,082||State Dept of Education|
|MAKUS, JEANETTE R||$34,000||$70,079||$104,079||Passaic Co Manchester Reg|
|DENI, KRISTINE R||$32,313||$96,344||$128,657||Lawrence Twp BOE|
|COLLINS, THOMAS R||$30,129||$37,872||$68,001||State Dept of Education|
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