Nothing stops a state pension – not even on-the-job crimeLongterm payouts could total millions
The expressions are eerily similar: a blank stare coupled with a deadpan expression as if anticipating impending doom.
Police mugshots of educators caught violating the public trust – usually by having sexual relationships with their students – appear on the pages of online and print news outlets with disturbingly regularity.
The arrest of a 29-year-old history teacher in late June charged with 40 counts of child sexual abuse for allegedly having sex with a student is the latest in what has become a predictable occurrence.
Caesar Rodney High School teacher Andrew Chrzanowski joins two other teachers arrested this year facing charges ranging from sexual abuse of a child by a person in authority to unlawful sexual contact.
These arrests this year join dozens of others researched to 1999 – some teachers were charged with rape and remain behind bars. At least two are at retirement age qualifying, them for full pensions with benefits.
Nothing in state law prevents them from receiving it. Not even a crime against a child.
After an extensive search using Google, the Department of Corrections offender locater, sex offender registry and Lexis Nexis, the Cape Gazette analyzed salary information for 15 former educators convicted and two whose cases are currently in the court system.
Delaware taxpayers could pay these 16 former employees arrested from 2000 to 2012 a total of $475,000 a year in pension and benefits. All but two were charged with felonious crimes against children.
Delaware law does not prevent a teacher – or any state employee for that matter – from receiving a pension and benefits even if they were convicted of a job-related felony before retiring. An employee fired for criminal activity on the job is no exception – the employee is eligible for a state pension and benefits if they've paid into it, said David Craik, pension administrator for the state.
"If that's true, I think that's wrong," said Rep. Pete Schwarztkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach.
Since 1999, the Cape Gazette found 36 cases of educators charged with crimes.
All involved sexual crimes against children with the exception of one district administrator found guilty of embezzling and a teacher charged with DUI, endangering the welfare of a child and other crimes.
Of the 36, one teacher signed an attorney general's document in lieu of charges acknowledging he engaged in immoral conduct. Charges were dropped or not prosecuted in other cases.
• Three teachers were arrested in 2012; five were arrested in 2011.
• Of the 36, more than half – 19 – are from Sussex County. Ten are from Kent County and seven from New Castle.
• Only one is a woman.
• The majority of the incidents involve high school girls.
Pedophile pension costs
Earlier this year, the Cape Gazette submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Office of Management and Budget requesting information on salaries, years of service, pensions and retirement benefits for 32 educators convicted or currently in the court system.
Pension and retirement information for state employees is protected under Delaware Code; only salary and years of service are public information, said Robert Scoglietti, director of policy and external affairs.
Of the 32 requests analyzed, 16 would qualify for pension and retirement benefits based when they were hired, which vested employees in the state pension plan after five years; 15 teachers originally identified did not work the five years required to be vested; one's record was expunged.
House Bill 81 passed in 2011 raised the vesting time to 10 years for employees hired after Jan. 1, 2012. The bill also increased the employee contribution from 3 percent to 5 percent for salaries of $6,000 or more. None of the records analyzed are affected by the new law.
Of the convicted educators, only two are 62 or older – the age required to receive a full pension. The state offers provisions for early retirement, which would reduce monthly pension payments; adding survivor benefits decreases payments slightly. Convicted teachers who have a disability can also receive payments and benefits before retirement age.
Since pension and disability information is protected under state law, this analysis assumes the former educators, whose employment with the state ended following their criminal arrests, qualify for and will receive a state pension some time in the future.
Using the state pension calculator, payments range from a high of $35,382 annually to a low of $2,253. If all of the identified educators receive a pension – which by all indications they are entitled to –the total annual cost to the state would be about $200,000. That cost could increase to nearly $500,000 annually when factoring in healthcare benefits. There is a one-time death benefit of $7,000 for survivors of state retirees, which reduces a pension check by a few dollars for those opting for it.
While privacy laws preclude the public from knowing the exact costs, Delaware taxpayers could be paying an estimated $500,000 annually in pensions and benefits to convicted educators, depending on how many are receiving a pension and benefits during any one year. Costs can vary depending on when these educators retire and how long they or their families continue to receive benefits.
'We don't want to manage your retirement'
One way to combat teacher abuse of children involves hitting perpetrators in their wallet.
Specifically, if educators knew one illicit fling with a student could jeopardize their pension and retirement benefits, it could give them pause.
It's a concept briefly broached by Sen. Joseph Booth, R-Georgetown, in 2003 after his election to the state legislature. That case, however, revolved around embezzling money, not an illegal teacher/student relationship.
In 2003, then-Rep. Booth proposed requiring new employees to sign an agreement to abide by the law; employees found guilty of an immoral crime would forfeit their participation in the state-operated pension fund. State employees in violation of the agreement would be given a lump-sum check of the money they had vested in the state pension plan, and they would be told the state no longer would handle their pension account, Booth said.
Booth said he had barely typed up the potential legislation – he's not even sure it was ever assigned a number – before the proposal was met with opposition from state officials. "There was such a resistance to that," he said. "I did try to do that, and then I said never mind."
Nor did he have the backing of the Minner administration or Senate – crucial support needed for the passage of a bill.
"I think the state should be able to write a check and say OK, we don't want to manage your retirement … (we) don't want to be their banker the rest of their life," Booth said.
Craik said he recalls Booth's proposal, and the concern was over survivor benefits.
"The forfeiture of benefits could also have unintended consequences of penalizing the dependents of the employee, who for some crimes could be the victims of the crimes," Craik said.
Current pensions are issued as part of a contractual obligation an employee pays into; for a few less dollars pensions include survivor benefits. In the event that a pensioner dies, a spouse receives the same benefits as a regular pensioner. If there is no spouse, survivor benefits would pass on to any dependent children, Craik said.
Schwartzkopf, a former state police officer, said he remembers pension discussions following arrests of a couple of police officers in the 1990s.
"If it's a pension benefit that they've paid into, benefits can't be taken away because you can't tie it to the crime," he said.
Schwartzkopf said a convicted pensioner should have the opportunity to turn over pension benefits to a spouse or dependents but disagrees with convicts receiving pensions – especially if they are in jail.
"If that money is going over to that person, I think he should have to pay," Schwartzkopf said. "I thoroughly believe if people have an income when they go to jail, they should be billed. They should have to pay part of their incarceration costs."
It's an issue Schwartzkopf said he would like to examine.
A state employee who has been fired or found guilty of a criminal violation should not receive a pension or healthcare benefits; it should only be for an employee in good standing, he said.