Saturday, September 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

40 N.J. state part-time temps collect $6 million a year

With an income exceeding $225,000 last year, Cathy Coyle is the most expensive part-time temp in New Jersey state government.

The NJ Department of Education paid Coyle $151,862 last year as a “special services” employee. The retired Jersey City school executive also collects a $73,765 annual pension from the state.

Coyle is not alone. The state agency’s Special Services Unit Q has become a haven for double-dippers who game the pension system with the knowledge of the Christie Administration.

A New Jersey Watchdog investigation found:

  • Two-thirds of NJDOE’S top 60 Unit Q special services workers collect state pensions.
  • Those 40 employees collected roughly $5.9 million last year – nearly $2.9 million in state pay plus almost $3 million from retirement checks.
  • Thirty-eight of the double-dippers have six-figure incomes. Five receive more than $200,000 a year.

To all but insiders, Unit Q is a mystery. It is not on NJDOE’s organizational chart, and the special services job title is nowhere to be found on the state Civil Service Commission web site. While all of the temps have the same title on the state payroll, they work in a variety of roles that don’t necessarily involve special education.

“Temporary employment services employees are paid by the day, paid only for the days they work and receive no benefits,” explained NJDOE spokesman Michael Yarple in an email to New Jersey Watchdog. “(They) are part-time. Some are retirees, some are not.”

 

 

What they do get is the ability to collect big state paychecks while circumventing rules intended to protect pension funds from being drained by retired officials who are still employed. The unit sails under the public’s radar, so workers have been double-dipping without much notice.

Typically, an educator’s retirement benefits are supposed to be suspended if the retiree returns to work in a school-related job. But pension rules also give authorities wide discretion in deciding which employees are temporary, as well as power to waive other restrictions.

Coyle, for example, is executive director of NJDOE’s Regional Achievement Center in Essex and Hudson counties. While she may be deemed temporary, Frank Grossman – the RAC executive director in a neighboring region – is considered a permanent employee. Grossman receives a $125,000 salary; he is not retired and does not collect a state pension.

In addition to Coyle, there are four other retired Unit Q workers who double-dipped more than $200,000 in 2013. They are:

Six of the part-time temps are retired school administrators who returned to work as county school superintendents – Serafino, Thomas Dowd, Richard Stepura, Joseph Zarra, Gerald Vernotica and Samuel Stewart.

The ranks of top Unit Q workers also include five NJDOE retirees back on the departmental payroll as special services employees.

Retired educators are not the only pensioners in Unit Q. Five State Police retirees and two retired Trenton city cops have also returned to the public trough to conduct internal investigations.

“This is a more cost-effective approach than having to hire and train investigators and also pay for their benefits,” said Yaple.

Overall, 28 of the top 40 Unit Q double-dippers — 70 percent – receive their retirement checks from the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund, the state retirement plan that faces the biggest deficit.

TPAF has an unfunded liability of $23 billion, according to state Treasury’s latest figures. That represents nearly half of the shortfall for all state pension funds, now totaling $51 billion.

Yaple noted other state agencies have their own Unit Q temps. “It’s not just unique to NJDOE,” he said.

But it’s the Department of Education part-timers who get the biggest paychecks. All nine of the state’s Unit Q temps paid in excess of $100,000 last year were employed by NJDOE, including two not collect pensions.

Here is New Jersey Watchdog’s list of the 40 NJDOE Unit Q double-dippers who received more than $30,000 in pay plus retirement checks in 2013. It was compiled from the Treasury’s payroll and pension databases:

 

NAME DOE PAY PENSION TOTAL   EMPLOYER AT RETIREMENT
           
COYLE, CATHERINE V $151,862 $73,765 $225,627   Jersey City PS
BORKES, FRANCES $124,000 $58,383 $182,383   Middlesex Co Vocational
KARSEN, RONALD K $118,500 $97,916 $216,416   Newark PS
LITTLEJOHN, S MICHAEL $116,700 $84,835 $201,535   Jersey City PS
MCDOWELL, JOSEPHINE $110,100 $91,517 $201,617   Newark PS
STEPURA, RICHARD M $105,294 $79,708 $185,002   Northfield BOE
DOWD, THOMAS $101,660 $87,357 $189,017   Bloomfield Twp BOE
SERAFINO, KATHLEEN C $99,360 $113,743 $213,103   Nutley BOE
BANKS, SPRING J $95,750 $64,299 $160,049   Essex Co Vocational
OKUM, ILIANA $95,400 $58,637 $154,037   Pemberton Twp BOE
VOORHEES, PATRICIA J $94,250 $40,469 $134,719   State Dept of Education
RESTIVO, JOANNE M $94,224 $35,461 $129,685   Office of Administrative Law
MCMAHON, THOMAS C $87,450 $78,257 $165,707   West Essex Regional
VOLK, CELIA A $81,673 $52,960 $134,633   State Dept of Education
KATZMAR, LEWIS P $80,045 $47,052 $127,097   Upper Deerfield Twp BOE
DUNN, KAREN M $78,275 $72,571 $150,846   Union Twp BOE
ALTERSITZ, AVE $73,535 $69,096 $142,631   Kingsway Regional
RAMOS, JOSEPH $71,820 $100,440 $172,260   Guttenberg Boro BOE
POPE, PATRICIA A $67,025 $79,279 $146,304   Hoboken BOE
HENDRICK, RENA G $65,793 $61,591 $127,384   West New York BOE
WINKLER, PAUL B $56,866 $47,368 $104,234   Lower Camden Regional
VESPUCCI, RICHARD J $56,550 $47,136 $103,686   State Dept of Education
MADISON, GUY M $56,350 $85,965 $142,315   State Police
DILORENZO, JOHN $55,098 $83,774 $138,872   State Police
SCARINGELLI, JAMES $54,126 $92,294 $146,420   Trenton City
HACKETT, KEITH $53,600 $82,106 $135,706   State Police
ZARRA, JOSEPH S $53,360 $92,849 $146,209   Nutley BOE
GALE, JEFFREY G $53,159 $89,577 $142,736   State Police
VERNOTICA, GERALD J $53,130 $100,795 $153,925   Washington Twp BOE
STEWART, SAMUEL B $52,900 $76,907 $129,807   South Brunswick BOE
KANZ, JAMES P $51,220 $81,610 $132,830   State Police
LUCHERINI, RICHARD $50,935 $76,098 $127,033   Trenton City
LAZUR, MICHAEL A $47,821 $79,360 $127,181   State Police
FROHNAPFEL, DENNIS R $44,800 $122,499 $167,299   Garfield BOE
TANNER, MARYJANE $44,450 $65,050 $109,500   State Dept of Education
MCFADDEN, VINCENT $43,350 $99,107 $142,457   Hudson County Tech
SARGENTI, JOANNE C $37,738 $15,344 $53,082   State Dept of Education
MAKUS, JEANETTE R $34,000 $70,079 $104,079   Passaic Co Manchester Reg
DENI, KRISTINE R $32,313 $96,344 $128,657   Lawrence Twp BOE
COLLINS, THOMAS R $30,129 $37,872 $68,001   State Dept of Education
           
2013 TOTALS $2,874,611 $2,989,470 $5,864,081  

The New Jersey Watchdog is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the state of New Jersey. It is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a libertarian nonprofit organization.

Mark Lagerkvist NJ WATCHDOG
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