The District 96 school board is contending that during the final four years of his tenure at the Riverside elementary school district that former superintendent Jonathan Lamberson was credited with $78,444 more in earnings than he was entitled to. For the last four months the district has been in contact with Lamberson and it is trying to be reimbursed from both Lamberson and the Illinois Teacher Retirement System (TRS) for the alleged overpayments that also boosted Lamberson’s pension.
“We believe Dr. Lamberson was overpaid under the terms of his contracts and we are still doing our due diligence,” said Mary Rose Mangia, the president of the District 96 Board of Education.
In an email to the Landmark Lamberson said that he has been working with the district to resolve questions about his compensation.
“Since I was made aware that there were technical questions regarding the contractual terms of my retirement, I have been cooperating with the school district to resolve those questions,” Lamberson wrote. “Those retirement terms were based on the advice of the school district’s attorney at the time. I want to work with the district to resolve the situation in a way that is fair to both parties.”
The school district’s main attorney during most of Lamberson’s tenure as District 96 superintendent was Tony Scariano who died on Dec. 26, 2012.
The school board’s investigation of Lamberson has now moved beyond pay matters after an initial review raised questions about his use of a district credit card issued in Lamberson’s name. Questions have also been raised about Lamberson’s reimbursement for mileage while he was also receiving a car allowance. Last month the school board authorized its law firm to audit Lamberson’s expenses while he was superintendent.
“We’ve just given our direction to our legal counsel to pursue any and all irregularities that we’ve been able to identify and come back to us with the results of those discussions,” said school board member David Kodama. “We’re looking into anything and everything.”
“With regard to both the expenses and the pensions, we’ve been looking into it and we will take any and all legal means to recoup any money that’s owed the district,” said Mangia.
The board’s lawyer has apparently met with Lamberson and Lamberson’s attorney, but nothing has been resolved yet.
Shelly Anderson, the attorney representing the school district in the matter, did not respond to a phone call asking for her to comment about the situation.
Lamberson retired from District 96 on June 3, 2013, almost a month before he was scheduled to depart, and is now working as the superintendent of schools in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. He is also receiving an annual pension of $262,512 from the Illinois Teacher Retirement System according to TRS spokesman Dave Urbanek. TRS pensions are based on highest four years of earnings so boosting his salary in his final years in District 96 increased Lamberson’s pension.
The alleged overpayments to Lamberson caused District 96 to pay an excess salary penalty to the TRS of approximately $77,000. The district had to also pay TRS about $127,000 as an additional contribution because Lamberson took the TRS Early Retirement Option.
On March 31 Mangia sent Lamberson a letter outlining the district’s concerns that Lamberson had been paid more than he should have been. The Landmark obtained a copy of the letter last week after filing a Freedom of Information Act request for the letter more than four months ago. District 96 denied the FOIA request saying that it fell under an exemption and the Landmark then appealed the district’s ruling to the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor which on Aug. 6 directed the district to release the letter to the Landmark in a non-binding determination. In the letter to Lamberson Mangia specified three areas that she said accounted for Lamberson getting credited with more than the four percent raises in TRS creditable earnings that his final contract, signed in 2009, called for.
Mangia wrote that it appeared that Lamberson calculated his vacation days using a work year of 224 or 225 workdays rather than the 260 workday year customarily used by the district. Mangia also wrote that dental insurance premiums paid by the district were incorrectly included as part of Lamberson’s salary. The letter also stated that the district was looking into Lamberson’s use of unused vacation time to pay the $30,000 liquidated damages penalty he had to pay for leaving District 96 before his contract allowed him to.
“The board’s preliminary assessment is that you were overcompensated under your employment contracts,” Mangia wrote in the letter to Lamberson.
School board members have been reluctant to say much about the situation with Lamberson saying that it is a long and drawn out process to gather all the facts, an effort that they say is continuing.
The Landmark recently obtained through a FOIA request the last four years of credit card statements for the Sam’s Club Discover Card that was issued in Lamberson’s name at the district’s address. The Landmark also obtained records of reimbursement requests made by Lamberson. The credit card statements and reimbursements for expenses may raise questions.
Lamberson’s final contract with District 96, signed in 2009, called for Lamberson to be paid $400 a month to cover “transportation and automobile expenses, and other incidental expenses.” There is no mention in the contract of reimbursement for mileage. However Lamberson submitted mileage records for car travel both within the district and outside the district.
“I was reimbursed for mileage during my eight years in D96,” Lamberson said in his email to the Landmark.
The credit card statements also show numerous charges at gas stations in the western suburbs and a few at gas stations in the northern suburbs closer to where Lamberson lives.
Lamberson did not respond prior to deadline to follow up questions asking whether he used the district credit card to buy gas for his car or asking him who authorized him to be reimbursed for mileage when he was also receiving a car allowance.
Lamberson said that the Sam’s Club Discover Card bills were paid by District 96. The credit card statements show that the card was used for many clearly district related purposes such as buying airplane tickets for trips to professional conferences, paying registration fees at conferences, and paying for hotel stays, food and rental cars at conferences.
But the credit card also reflects many purchases at stores in the northern suburbs such as Best Buy, Target, Sam’s Club and others. Some examples include a $354 purchase at the Best Buy in Vernon Hills on July 15, 2012 and a $155 charge for a purchase at the Walmart located in Woodstock on Nov. 24, 2012. Without the actual receipts it is impossible to know what was actually purchased at these stores.
The credit card was also used for purchases that might be of a personal nature. One trivial example is a $4.69 meal at the McDonalds in Riverwoods on Dec. 5, 2009. The card was also used for a $100 purchase at the Panera Bread in Libertyville on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2011.
There are also a few large purchases such as a $1,027 charge for a Discover Gift Card on Nov. 30, 2012. On June 14, 2012 there is a $147 purchase from Bon Ton, the online version of Carson’s. On most all of the credit card bills there is a District 96 stamp and Lamberson’s signature on the approved line.
“We’re concerned and we’re looking into it,” Mangia said of Lamberson’s use of the credit card.
Lamberson closed out the credit card on April 23, 2013 a little more than five weeks before he abruptly left the district on June 3, 2013 almost one month earlier than his expected retirement date. The Discover Card was cancelled exactly two weeks after the April 9, 2013 school board election that brought challengers Mangia, Randy Brockway, and Rachel Marrello to the school board. In that election the then school board president Mary Ellen Meindl was defeated. It was also about the time former school board president and then finance committee chairwoman Nancy Jensen, who chose not to run a fourth term, left the school board.