Private employees at SIU receive public pensions

By Karsten Burgstahler

The only physical evidence of Michael Jacoby on SIU’s campus is a mailbox.

Technically, Jacoby and six other university employees — Brent Clark, Jason Leahy, Sara Boucek, Julie Weichert, Alison Maley and Susan Bertrand — share the same office: Pulliam 131, within the main office for the university’s Higher Education program.

The seven work for three different off-campus organizations: Clark and Boucek work for the Illinois Association of School Administrators, Leahy, Weichert and Maley work for Illinois Principals Association, and Jacoby and Bertrand work for Illinois Association of School Business Officials.


But while the seven are off campus, their job is to work with the university as outreach consultants and bring students in to the College of Education. Clark said the group is excited to implement programs to achieve that goal.

“We get to play a pretty significant role in helping shape and direct (SIU’s) administrative preparation program. In fact, we have a meeting there on campus … to work on that,” he said. “Most importantly coming out of that piece, we get to help develop whatever the future school administrators are going to look like coming out of that program.”

Because the seven have contracts with the university as employees, they are entitled to join the university’s pension program through the State University Retirement System, according to the contracts between the associations and the university.

The pension reform bill passed by the Illinois Legislature Dec. 3 was partly intended to keep private employees from receiving public pensions.

The law specifically names the three organizations involved in the contract, among others, as unable to create similar relationships with universities after June 1.

The act does not affect SIU’s agreement, as it was made months before the legislation passed.

Beth Spencer, SURS communications manager, said the universities the system represents will be grandfathered into the law. However, SURS will have more control over who a university can contract with in the future.


“If the law is upheld, going forward private or individual associations like that will most likely not be considered employees of that employer, because it will be up to SURS to make that decision,” she said.

The SURS board of directors would be able to determine who can be considered an employee if the law stands; however, Spencer said she could not comment on whether the present arrangement at SIU is good or bad because it was not SURS’ decision in the past.

Several of the employees, including Leahy and Clark, were involved in a similar program at Illinois State University two years ago. According to a Dec. 17, 2011 Chicago Tribune article, the associations paid the salary and pension contributions required by the state. But an independent actuary said the amount required didn’t completely cover the benefits the employees receive.

Two of the employees — Jacoby and Clark — earned high six-figure salaries for half a year’s work in 2013 — $180,672 and $152, 781, resepectively. The other five earned from $36,804 to $95,740 for half a year’s work.

Leahy said the organizations fully cover the employer SURS contribution, per the associations’ contracts with the university. A document detailing payments to the members, obtained by the Daily Egyptian, confirms Leahy’s statement.

The associations give the members’ salaries to the university, which in turn signs the paychecks. The organizations cover the 12.71 percent employer contribution, or a total of $102,263 from the contract’s inception on May 1 through Dec. 31, according to the document. Leahy said the organizations did not want the association to cost SIU.

“Basically, we’re funding all of (the retirement expenses) upfront through the agreement,” he said. “The university doesn’t spend anything, there’s no taxpayers dollars really associated with that at all … we didn’t want this to be something that would cost the university because we’re receiving some pretty significant benefit in being able to have that footprint of leadership and development of leaders in that particular part of the state.”

University President Glenn Poshard said he was not aware of the issues raised in the Tribune article or why the law targeted the associations that have a relationship with SIU. But he said the organizations approached the university and he and the chancellor determined the benefits to the university, including that the organizations were willing to pay their own way, would be great.

“We took a hard look at it. We looked at what (the organizations) were able to do and wanted to do, and decided (the) balance that this would be a great benefit to SIU,” he said.

With the contract defined, Clark said he was excited to work with the program, as it will benefit both the university and his organization.

Enrollment in the College of Education remained steady between fall 2010 and fall 2012, according to the university’s factbook; however, enrollment dropped from fall 2013 to spring 2014.

Clark said the consultants plan to begin rolling out seminars teaching students how to be effective school administrators.

“The reason that we partner with Higher Ed has a lot to do with it gives the organizations a research institution to really rely on when you’re dealing with emerging education trends, reform ideas, which we have a lot of here in Illinois,” he said.

Contract executor Chancellor Rita Cheng referred questions to University Spokesperson Rae Goldsmith, who referred questions to College of Education Dean Keith Wilson. Wilson said the contract is valuable for his department.

“The associations are involved with assisting us with recruiting activities for our existing administration program, and also an education administration program that we are going to propose that would be off campus,” he said.

Several of the administrators have degrees from SIU, and Leahy said it was rewarding to be able to help out his alma mater.

“I got my undergrad (at SIU), I’m an alumni of SIU, so I want to see the university be successful,” he said.

As for the mailbox, Jacoby, whose association is located in DeKalb, said the contract helps his program spread their word throughout the state.

“Our headquarters is based in northern Illinois, and one of the things that our members in southern Illinois and central Illinois quite often say is that we don’t have as much programming in that area for them,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to have a presence in southern Illinois that we didn’t initially have.”