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Problems with pensions

News investigative reporter Mary B. Pasciak recently did an eye-opening series on sky-high public pensions. Today she expands on those findings in this guest post.

We wrote recently about the pension-fattening lump sums that some teachers and administrators get when they cash in unused sick days and vacation time when they retire. In some cases, retirees end up with a pension -- free of state income tax -- that's as big as their paycheck was while they were working.

Eventually, those sweetheart deals will be phased out; only people who started teaching before June 1971 can count on those lump sums when the state calculates their pensions.

That doesn't mean taxpayers are off the hook, though.

In many places, teachers and administrators will still be able to cash in their unused sick time. But instead of getting a huge check when they retire -- which then would pump up their pension -- hundreds of retirees will be getting tens of thousands of dollars set aside so they can purchase health insurance many years after they retire.

Nowhere does this type of contract provision seem more lucrative than in Depew.

For years, employees could collect as much as $110,000 when they retired, when they cashed in unused sick time.

This summer, the deal got even better. Now, for teachers who cash in the maximum of 420 sick days, the district pays out $174,000, deposited into a tax-sheltered account.

Superintendent Kimberly Mueller, who has been in the district for one year, acknowledged that Depew's teachers contract is among the most generous around for retirees.

"It was just since time began that this was how they compensated employees in Depew," she said.

Tomorrow: John F. Bonfatti on bad news for the West Valley cleanup.

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