Opinion

Bremerton's superintendent 'double dips' by collecting pension and salary

It was déjá vu all over again when the Bremerton School Board managed to get itself in the position of setting it up so Bremerton Schools Superintendent Dr. Bette Hyde could both retire to collect her $75,000 pension and stay on the job as interim superintendent at $124,088 until a successor was found.

Everybody involved in this pleads not guilty to collusion. She says she sincerely intended to throw in the towel when she announced last April that she was retiring. The board says it sincerely intended to find a replacement for her and it just turned out the right person didn’t come along.

So it had a little tete-a-tete with Dr. Hyde who was willing to stay on while the search for a successor continued. Lucky for her, enough time had elapsed between goodbye and hello again so she could collect both her pension and her salary at the same time. That’s $199,088, folks. That’s called double dipping.

Remember Bob Graham? Former State Auditor Bob Graham, that is?

In 1991, I had the occassion to call my old friend Bob to ask whether it was worth it.

For years, I said, you’ve been one of the most respected figures in state government, the people’s watchdog on the excesses of others on the public payroll, regularly elected with large majorities on a record that boasted of protecting the taxpayers’ money.

Then, overnight, your name became a household word for greed and triple dipping, when those taxpayers learned their champion was collecting full retirement pay for the job he sill held on salary, plus picking up Social Security.

Graham said he didn’t think that was true.

“I feel the decision I made (to continue working after putting in for his pension on his 70th birthday) was appropriate. I think it’s something I earned on an employment contract.”

Well, the main criticism I heard, I said, particularly from others in government, who also are eligible to do what you’re doing, is that it just isn’t seemly to collect retirement for a job you haven’t retired from. It’s one thing for someone to retire, say from the military, or teaching and get another job because the pension isn’t sufficient, and quite another to simply stay on and collect salary for the job you have officially retired from.

“I don’t see it that way,” Graham said. “I feel what I earned is what I’m taking.”

Actually, he said, because he no longer makes contributions to the pension fund to which the state also contributes, the state benefits from his retirement. Besides, he said, he was 70 and the average life expectancy for men was 71, so the likelihood of him drawing much of his pension was not great.

His pessimism was for naught because Bob Graham is alive and well today. Lucky him.

As for Dr. Hyde, she has a contract to maintain her old job until June 30. School district spokeswoman Patty Glaser said she did not know if her boss was collecting Social Security which would make her a triple dipper, but we know she is a double dipper.

Now, I don’t know Dr. Hyde, other than crossing her path a few times, but I’m told she was — is — a terrific superintendent, so most of the board worships at her feet. They can think of nothing more satisfying than to have Dr. Terrific back in her old job permanently. She, be still my heart, agreed if asked. Whether to go that route was supposed to be decided at last week’s board meeting, but the meeting imploded, so it’s up in the air. By the time they’ve cooled off enough to meet again, it will be interesting to see if Dr. Hyde offers to give up the pension as long as she is on active duty or decides to fatten the old wallet by applying for Social Security if she isn’t already getting it.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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