When Jonathan Lamberson signed on as superintendent of schools in Riverside District 96 back in 2005, he took a sizeable pay cut to do so.

As chief of Lake Forest High School, Lamberson made just over $273,000, according to The Champion, a Web site that tracks Illinois public schools salaries. His first contract in District 96 saw him making $177,000.

In the four years since signing that contract, however, Lamberson has made up the difference. District 96’s board of education on June 16 voted unanimously to extend Lamberson’s contract to 2013 and raised his salary for the 2009-10 school year to $278,000.

That’s a 4-percent increase over Lamberson’s 2008-09 salary, which was adjusted by the board at that same meeting. While Lamberson’s previous contract called for him to make $242,000 during the 2008-09, the board’s action on June 16 resulted in his final 2008-09 salary being $268,000.

The adjustment included giving Lamberson a $12,000 bonus that had been scheduled to be paid out in 2009-10. All told, the adjustment resulted in Lamberson receiving at 20-percent pay raise from 2007-08 to 2008-09.

Lamberson’s new four-year contract calls for him to receive raises of 4 percent each year until 2012-13. By the final year of the deal he will be paid $313,000.

The 20-percent bump at the end of the 2008-09 school year is tied to language in the contract regarding retirement. The previous contract was scheduled to end at the close of the 2009-10 school year.

Since legislation imposes penalties on districts that raise administrators’ salaries more than 6 percent in the four years preceding retirement, Lamberson’s new contract provides for the 20 percent bump five years prior to the end of the new contract.

“I think the conversations that have been going on for some time were that if this is an end-of-career cycle, what would be appropriate comparable to what’s happening in other districts,” Lamberson said.

In exchange for the 20-percent hike for 2008-09, Lamberson’s raises will be below the 6-percent maximum allowed by law.

“I’m grateful for what the board did, and I’m happy to be able to remain in District 96,” Lamberson said. “We’re doing some great things for kids and we’ll be able to continue that with limited district office staff.”

If Lamberson, 54, decides to retire in 2013, he can do so only after Oct. 31, which is the end date of the contract. The date was chosen, according to James Schraidt, the chairman of the school board’s finance committee, because that was the date at which the district would not be penalized by Lamberson taking early retirement.

“I think where we ended up is we felt that this is what we needed to do to come to a contract,” Schraidt said. “Rightly or wrongly this is what generally is done out there.”

Schraidt said the board considered other options, including beginning a search process for a new superintendent, but felt that the cost, time and impact on school programming would be too great. In addition, the board will be negotiating a new teachers’ contract at the end of next year.

“Am I happy about the numbers? No,” Schraidt said. “But if you reach the conclusion you want to keep somebody, you have to at least look at those things.

“It was a difficult decision for the board, but it was the right decision for the continuity of leadership in the district.”