fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Wisely decision may cost district

Keeping his retirement secret could hurt the Medford schools bond measure, or other factors might matter more

Some say it is a minor distraction; others call it a potential detriment to the district's hopes of building a skills center.

— — — — — Wisely could earn &

36;233,000 this year

A combination of retirement benefits and contracted salary could earn Medford schools Superintendent Steve Wisely as much as &

36;233,000 this year, PERS estimates show.

That's according to calculations using the average replacement ratio, a formula devised by the Public Employees Retirement System.

According to PERS figures, employees with at least 30 years of service who retire between 1996 and 2002 will earn either regular retirement benefits of 96.32 percent of their salary or variable earnings of 104.41 percent.

Wisely declined to reveal the amount of his PERS benefits Tuesday, saying it wasn't appropriate to divulge the figures.

Records from state Teachers Standards and Practices Commission indicate that Wisely has worked in Oregon for at least 30 years.

Based on the PERS figures, Wisely would earn &

36;109,804 if he received the regular PERS rate and &

36;119,027 if he received the variable rate, which vacillated with the stock market.

Combined with a contracted salary of &

36;114,000, Wisely's income would be &

36;223,804 or &

36;233,027, depending on the rate.

Concerns over retirement benefits generous enough to exceed annual salaries have emerged as PERS struggles with an &

36;8.5 billion shortfall.

A Marion County judge this week ruled that the public employees pension board failed to save enough for the future by improperly inflating employee accounts during a booming stock market surge. Taxpayers are now bound to make up the difference.

State Rep. Rob Patridge, R-Medford, who has advocated for PERS reform, said the system originally was set up to provide about half of public employees' work-time income.

I don't begrudge Steve Wisely the benefit he's gained, but part of the issue is that people are retiring with more than 100 percent of their salary, Patridge said Tuesday. It's an example of why we need to reform the system. — — News that Medford schools Superintendent Steve Wisely had retired in June without public announcement drew mixed reactions from the community Wednesday.

I think because of its timing, it will be somewhat negatively interpreted because people are suspicious of government, said Ken Lindbloom, a former school board member who served for 14 years.

The Medford School Board, at the request of Wisely, decided to delay announcing his retirement until January to keep the community's focus on a &

36;79 million bond issue to pay for a new skills center, middle school and upgrades to the two high schools. Voters will decide on the measure Nov. 5.

Wisely is continuing with the district on contract as interim superintendent until a new superintendent takes over in July 2003.

Lindbloom, a bond supporter, thinks the board shouldn't have waited to make the announcement.

My personal view is it would have been more politically astute to have gone ahead and made the announcement with some fanfare because he has done a wonderful job with the district, he said.

As for Wisely and his wife collecting Public Employee Retirement System benefits plus contract money, he said, They have nothing to be embarrassed about. They've dedicated 35 years to education. And we all know that PERS needs to be fixed. Charlotte Wisely also retired in June but remains on contract as an elementary school media specialist.

Lindbloom said some people will be shocked by Wisely's annual salary of &

36;114,000, which he said is common among superintendents in a district of this size.

People aren't aware of the salaries for superintendents plus all the golden handcuffs that they get, he said. Some school districts provide automobiles, some extended insurance coverage to their superintendents.

Despite this, Lindbloom said, people will be suspicious of the motivations of the school board and superintendent.

Wouldn't (the board) have rather been up front about this? he said.

Bill Thorndike, president of Medford Fabrication and a bond supporter, said the downturn in the economy would have more of an impact on the bond's success than any controversy generated by Wisely's unannounced retirement.

Is this the straw that broke the camel's back, or will the economy make it a difficult decision for voters anyway? he asked.

In hindsight, he said the board's decision may not have been the best, but it could be rationalized as a desire to leave the campaign in as good a shape as possible.

Irrespective of the board's actions, Thorndike said, The merits of the project should stand by themselves.

Don Laws, a former political science teacher at Southern Oregon University who also has headed local political campaigns, said the fact that Wisely is collecting from PERS and receiving an income from the district will raise questions in some people's minds.

Laws, who also collected PERS benefits for five years while working under contract with SOU, said, With this many people being upset about the Public Employee Retirement System, this could be an issue.

Delaying the announcement of Wisely's retirement also could fuel public interest, he said.

From a political science point of view, I would think that if information is not released in a timely fashion, then you would suffer more than if you released it when you should have, he said. If they came out with it to begin with, it wouldn't have had much impact at all.

Like Lindbloom, Laws believes most people are suspicious of government.

doing it this way and getting a headline in the paper that you have hidden this fact, makes people think there is something sneaky, he said.

Larry Nicholson, co-chairman of the Citizens for 549c, said news of the retirement wouldn't affect the bond campaign much. It's distracting a little bit, he said.

But he wasn't surprised, he said, saying the retirement was in the works.

I don't have a problem with that myself, he said. A lot of CEOs don't announce their retirement to the public.

Even though there is concern that Wisely's authority as superintendent might be diminished if the public knew he was retired, Nicholson said, He works tirelessly doing two or three speaking engagements a day.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail