Meet Acton's highest-paid employee

Sun, 2015-08-02

Meet Acton's highest paid employee. No, she's not our Town Manager ($179,000 last year) or our Superintendent of Schools ($180,000 last year).

Meet Marilyn Bisbicos, the School's new Interim Director of Pupil Services, taking home $182,636. And that is working 0.8 FTE. In other words, it's like she gets every Friday off for the entire year.

Not a bad gig if you can find it. That's over $200,000 a year if she worked 40 hours per week.

But working four days doesn't stop her from getting all the benefits of a full-time employee, according to her employment contract. This includes 12 paid holidays and four weeks of paid vacation. Plus 18 days of paid sick leave. (Yes, 18 days. And unused sick leave can be carried over from year to year, which probably won't be an issue with Ms. Bisbicos since her contract is only for a year.) The Administrators' Benefits Manual also grants five personal leave days.

Why is she being paid so much? Because she is able to collect her full pension in addition to her salary. Her current pension is $82,636, which is not taxed on her MA state tax return. She retired from the Arlington school system at age 62 in 2005 and has collected her pension each year since then. On top of her pension, she will be paid $100,000 from AB for 32 hours per week, not including all that time off, of course.

Ms. Bisbicos is taking over for Liza Huber, the former Director of Pupil Services who did not work in the School system for almost the entire school year, even though taxpayers paid her $100,000 for not working. And so how does this represent a "critical shortage?" We were able to get by with a phantom employee for 10 months, and now Acton and Massachusetts taxpayers have to double-pay someone to work 32 hours per week because we have a "critical shortage?" This simply doesn't add up.

If the position is so important and critical, why is it only a four-day-per-week position?

The School just promoted Mary Emmons to the newly created position of Director of Special Education. Ms. Emmons served as the Interim Director of Pupil Services for the last 10 months. Why not just get her an assistant until we can find a permanent replacement? She was obviously doing "both jobs" simultaneously for about the last year. (I say "both jobs" because it used to be just one job, but because of our merger with Boxborough, we went over some student-size limit that required us to hire a dedicated Special Ed administrator. So in truth, this is really just one job that is now being done by two people.)

Do we really need a second top administrator at $200,000 a year? I guess spending someone else's money isn't really a big concern for anybody in local town government, so long as we can keep raising taxes and keep the gravy train flowing.

For a copy of Marilyn Bisbicos' contract, click here: http://actonforum.com/sites/default/files/Bisbicos_contract.pdf

HISTORY OF CRITICAL SHORTAGE WAIVERS
Ms. Bisbicos is no stranger to being available in an emergency. She has received three "critical shortage" waivers over the past five years. She retired from the Arlington school system in 2005, when she was 62. Since then, she has worked in both Webster and Hanover schools under similar waivers.

Last time Acton Forum investigated this issue, we learned that the state approved about 80-85% of these waivers, which allows retired school employees to receive their full pensions while employed full-time in the schools. This loophole is great for top administrators who want to earn $200,000 a year for a few years to cap off their earnings at the end of their careers. Acton has had several former administrators take advantage of this, and now perhaps we are just returning the favor. (See below for previous Acton recipients of doubled earnings while "retired.")

Without a waiver, retired employees can earn a percentage of their salary, often up to the amount they used to make full-time. But with a waiver, there is no cap and they can be paid as if they are fully retired while earning full-time income.

According to the paperwork filed by the AB Regional School District (see http://actonforum.com/sites/default/files/Bisbicos_2015_CS.pdf), there simply weren't any qualified candidates who could assume this position. This is in spite of a search the School held in the spring which produced two finalists for the Director of Pupil Services position. This search was then cancelled and one of the finalists has since been appointed as the Director of Special Education. But in order to get the critical shortage waiver, the school ran a new search for the Interim position and ended up interviewing just two candidates. They then decided that there were not enough quality applicants so they hired Ms. Bisbicos and will embark on another search this Fall for a permanent replacement.

But if they are unsuccessful, I'm fairly certain Ms. Bisbicos could be convinced to stay another year, that is if we can push through another critical shortage waiver for her.

Some might believe that since Acton taxpayers are only directly paying $100,000 for Ms. Bisbicos' four-day-per-week services, that that is all we should be concerned with. After all, state money is free, right? Or maybe it should be OK for people to earn full pensions while they continue to work full-time.

But then they wouldn't have rules against it, because obviously it can be abused. But then again, loopholes can clearly also be abused.

Collecting pensions are not just about paying someone back from their previous contributions, at least not for Massachusetts public employees.

Taxpayers are definitely on the hook for our unfunded teacher pension liabilities. The state's teacher retirement system is grossly underfunded, and taxpayers are going to have to make up the difference. Teacher pensions are not directly based on contributions; instead, they are based on the last few years of earnings. This guaranteed payout, called "defined benefits," means that shortfalls in the fund must be made up by taxpayers. Future expected shortfalls are called "unfunded liabilities" and the MA teacher's retirement unfunded liability currently stands at about $14 Billion (http://www.mass.gov/perac/valuation/2012commonwealth.pdf).

GAMES THE ABRSD PLAYS
As readers know, Acton Forum has been trying to get information from the School District related to the departure of former Director of Pupil Services Liza Huber. The School has spent over $15,000 just in legal fees (so far) to prevent us from seeing the public documents related to her departure and the naming of a replacement. For the last article in this series, see http://www.actonforum.com/story/school-releases-two-settlement-agreement....

So it is funny to see how the School provided its "Critical Shortage" paperwork compared to the state. The School decided that Ms. Babicos' name should be redacted from the application for her waiver, which is ridiculous. But it just goes to show the mentality of the organization we are dealing with. Here is the link to the redactions from the school, which appear right after the employment contract: http://actonforum.com/sites/default/files/Bisbicos_contract.pdf. You can compare that to the state's redactions here: http://actonforum.com/sites/default/files/Bisbicos_2015_CS.pdf

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To see the state rules on filing the paperwork for critical shortage waivers, see: http://www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=5685

For Acton Forum's previous report on School Critical Shortage waivers in Acton, see:

Part One: Two Acton School Administrators Collect Retirement Pay In Excess of $100k / year, http://actonforum.com/story/two-acton-school-administrators-collect-reti...

Part Two: Administrators Double Retirement Pay Using State Loophole, http://actonforum.com/story/administrators-double-retirement-pay-using-s...

THE NEXT ARTICLE IN THIS SERIES: http://www.actonforum.com/story/fantastic-school-administrator-hired-dedham

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