It has been a little over a week since the state auditor general issued biting criticism of the Upper Perkiomen School District’s retirement package for former Superintendent Dr. Timothy Kirby. But school district officials said they want the public to know one thing – a lot can happen in a week’s time.
PA Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale published his office’s performance audit report of the district last Wednesday, stating the school board “had approved contracts and contract amendments that had provided the former superintendent with excessive compensation and retirement benefits.”
That audit stated, via an “observation,” that Kirby was afforded contract changes that awarded him total benefits in the amount of $228,682. Kirby, who was employed with Upper Perkiomen from August 2004 until February 2012, had a salary range of $135,000 in 2004 to $197,760 in 2012.
That benefit total included six years of health care coverage for himself and his wife, estimated at $115,720, as well as payment for 90 unused sick days at a rate of $757.70 per day and 60 unused vacation days at a rate of $750 per day.
Amendments were made to his contracts on three occasions, two under the first contract from August 2004-August 2009, and one under the second contract from August 2009-February 2012.
The contract amendments were noted in the audit as “not in the best interest of the taxpayers” and state officials said the money “should have been spent on the education of the district’s students.”
The district was also found in error by the auditor general’s office in filing incorrect status for foster children, resulting in a $22,143 overpayment by the state. The audit finds the district noted the students’ name change but district personnel didn’t know the children had been adopted, resulting in the error.
Once the error was realized, the district brought it to the office’s attention, school officials said, and the state will reconcile the overpayment with its disbursement of funds this year.
The Auditor General’s Office, however, has since issued four revised reports due to errors in the initial audit. Those revisions, the latest of which was filed Wednesday, pertained to the observation on Kirby’s retirement package.
Among the revisions were changes to the amount of time into his second contract Kirby retired, changes to the percentage salary increase he received in 2006 and corrections to other mistakes.
Upper Perkiomen School Board President Bill Scott said Tuesday one of the biggest “misnomers” in the report is the increase to Kirby’s salary, noting he did not receive a 15 percent increase in one year under the first contract amendment. Instead, he received 4.75 percent raise in December 2006 and a 9.92 percent increase the following year. The 2007 increase included expense reimbursements.
The school board chose not to issue a statement on the audit.
A district official called the audit “misleading.” While the observation about Kirby’s retirement package didn’t translate to the district doing anything illegal, they said it still meant a mark on the district’s otherwise spotless audit record.
District Business Administrator Kassel, who said she received a call from the PA Auditor General’s Office this week apologizing for the errors in the report, said she hopes the mistakes will be a crux for change in the future.
“If anything positive comes out of this, please use this as something to change the process, maybe allow the district to check the figures in the audit,” Kassel noted.
Kirby, when reached for comment on the audit Tuesday, said he agreed. He said he spoke directly with Auditor General DePasquale this week and said DePasquale was non-committal on how many revisions would be issued to the audit, but Kirby was hopeful the correct figures would be released to the public and some light would be shed on the issue.
“I think the auditor general will do what he can to make this right,” Kirby said.
“There are factual errors, mathematical errors and errors in chronology and context,” he explained. “When you take those things into account they’re trying to connect things that don’t add up…It makes it look like I worked less and got more vacation and that’s not the case. I just feel bad for the board as there was never any desire by them to give me a golden egg.”
Kirby noted the amendments to his contracts were largely done to bring him in line with other administrators’ contracts and to accommodate the district and incoming superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth Yonson.
Statements by Scott and district records back that statement up. An amendment to Kirby’s first contract, in August 2008, providing five additional vacation days annually, allowing accumulation up to 50 vacation days to be paid out at the per diem rate of $757.50, was done to bring Kirby in line with benefits given to other administrators after their agreement was approved by the board, Scott said.
An amendment to his second contract in November 2011 was done to change his retirement date. Kirby originally notified the board in August 2011 of his retirement date of Jan. 2, 2012, but was asked by the board to stay until March 10, 2012 due to the time needed to find a suitable replacement, said a district official.
In order to accommodate a vacation that was already planned and paid for by Kirby after his anticipated retirement, as reflected in the minutes of the November 2011 school board meeting, the board agreed to give Kirby an additional seven vacation days and uncapped his vacation day accumulation.
“The context of these things is important,” said Kirby. “That’s what’s so confounding.”
Kirby’s retirement date was eventually changed to Feb. 25, 2012 so Yonson could start her role as early as possible, officials said.
The retirement package, while generous, was not excessive, said a board official, who asked to remain anonymous. Granting unpaid vacation and sick days, in addition to health care for a certain number of years, is not uncommon in the industry, they said.
And they noted salaries and sick and vacation days are similar in comparable school districts.
According to public records, Pottsgrove School District Superintendent Sheila Feola, hired in December 2012, makes $169,500 per year, and salaries of $168,000 and $165,000 are afforded to Souderton Area School District’s Superintendent Frank Gallagher and Boyertown School District’s Superintendent Dr. Richard Faidley, respectively.
Upper Perkiomen’s Dr. Elizabeth Yonson, whose contract expires in February 2017, has a contracted salary of $170,000 annually.
“In my opinion, yes the severance package was excessive, but no more so than any other school district’s retirement packages,” said Board Director Raeann Hofkin of the audit. “There is a fine line between attracting top talent and excessive packages.”