The Illinois Teacher Retirement System (TRS) is paying a little more than $72,000 back to Riverside Elementary School District 96 as a result of the settlement the district reached last month with former Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson.

In February, Lamberson agreed to pay the district nearly $59,000 to settle claims that the former superintendent was paid more than he should have been in the last four years of his nine-year tenure in District 96.

TRS spokesman Dave Urbanek said the retirement system is reimbursing District 96 $72,109.58 to reflect Lamberson’s restated creditable earnings as a result of his settlement with the district. 

Urbanek said TRS has already sent back $38,130.27 to the district, and that the balance should be in the hands of the school district within the next month.

“We’re pleased to have it wrapped up and be able to focus on the future,” school board President Jeffrey Miller said. 

Miller said that the board was unified in its desire to pursue and resolve the issue with Lamberson and TRS.

“The board wanted to wrap this matter up in a way that was favorable to the district, and everyone on the board is happy that that’s happened,” Miller said.

As a result of the settlement and his restated earnings, Lamberson’s annual pension will be reduced to $270,284 from the $282,882 he had been receiving.

When Lamberson retired, District 96 paid about $77,000 in penalties to TRS because Lamberson’s raises, before his pay was restated as part his settlement with the district, somehow exceeded 6 percent, even though his contract called for 4-percent raises. 

That large and unexpected penalty paid in 2013 prompted then-board president Mary Rose Mangia to look into the how Lamberson’s raises exceeded what was specified in his contract. 

“Mary Rose was the one that dug this up,” said board member Randy Brockway. “She brought it to light.”

The investigation and subsequent negotiations with TRS was costly and filled with frustrating delays.

District 96’s law firm calculated that District 96 paid $64,975 in legal fees relating the Lamberson mater. Subtracting the legal fees from the payments the district is receiving from TRS and from Lamberson, the district stands to gain about $65,000 by pursuing the matter.   

“When we received the bill for the excess salary penalty, the 2013 board knew we had a responsibility to understand why TRS sent it,” Mangia said in an email. “I’m glad the penalty recovery from TRS ends this matter with a net positive for District 96.”

The process took longer than board members wanted, and board members and district officials were often frustrated working with the slow moving and sometimes recalcitrant TRS bureaucracy.

While Mangia, with support from other board members, started the investigation and pushed and prodded to pursue the matter, Miller, who was elected to the school board last year, played a key role in pushing TRS and the district’s law firm to finally resolve the matter.

“He got their attention and got this resolved,” Brockway said.

Mangia also credited Miller for following through and pursuing the matter to completion.

“I’m glad he continued on and picked up the banner,” Mangia said.

Brockway said that both Mangia and Miller played key roles.  

“Jeff deserves a lot credit for bringing this to completion and Mary Rose deserves the credit for getting it going,” Brockway said. “It was a long process.