As if there has not been enough drama in Riverside’s District 96 public elementary schools this past year what with a new superintendent and the seemingly endless staffing changes she has made, now we have the school board taking a very hard look at the exit strategy of the previous superintendent, Jonathan Lamberson.
That departure, not a retirement by any definition we’re willing to accept, seems to have been accompanied by a “where’s mine” grab by Lamberson at every nickel big complicated contracts can offer. Vacation pay. Sick pay. The length of the district’s customary work year for administrators. Even the way dental insurance premiums were toted up. Every advantage was taken in his favor and all of it added up to a pay boost that in the juiced up racket of public-sector pensions meant a pension boost, too.
Lamberson tells the Landmark he is cooperating with the district in sorting out what he calls the “technical questions regarding contractual terms of my retirement.” Just as we don’t call it a retirement when a person takes a new full-time job in another pension-worthy state, we don’t call manipulating the system a technicality.
The school district seems to have become aware it had a problem when the Illinois Teacher Retirement System reached out and levied some $200,000 in penalties and fees on the district for unfairly enriching Lamberson and his pension, currently at an astounding $262,512 per annum.
The school board has now also directed its attorneys to audit Lamberson’s credit card use and other expenses during his fade-out years in Riverside.
While the district gets some points for looking hard at this excess on the taxpayers’ collective dime, we also offer criticism. The current board majority ran on a pledge of transparency. Yet the Landmark has had to go the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor to obtain critical documents in this matter after the school board refused our Freedom of Information Act filing of four months back. At the AG’s direction, the school board finally coughed up its letter to Lamberson detailing its concerns over his final compensation. A copy of that letter is available on our website at RBLandmark.com/Lamberson.
There is another document we have sought from the school district related to this case that the school board continues to keep under lock and key, claiming attorney-client privilege. This is not transparency. We continue to demand that public document as we consult with our attorney over next steps.
The previous school board allowed itself to be cowed by both Lamberson and its own attorney, the late Anthony Scariano. This board was elected in response to that rubber-stamping board’s ways. If the new board is serious about transparency, serious about getting to the bottom of this unseemly pension grab, it would do well to let more light in on this process, not less.