A Patch investigation has revealed that retired administrators have been landing lucrative contracts as consultants at the same time teachers are fighting to keep their jobs in the face of looming budget cuts in Niles Township School District 219.
Most notably, former principal and fine arts director Robert Freeman received more than $71,000 for designing T-shirts, creating PowerPoint presentations and drafting logos for the district’s new gymnasium during five months as a consultant, he said.
“My background is really in art,” Freeman told Skokie Patch in a recent interview. “I designed stuff for the school district.”
Around the same time Freeman was consulting, the District 219 school board said it would be in an effort to save $1 million.
In discussing the belt tightening, board president Robert Silverman noted that the district, comprising of Niles North and Niles West high schools, decided to “align our resources to our core areas, which are math, science, English and reading.”
Yet, from Oct. 29 through March 16, Freeman’s Creative Ideas & Solutions was paid $71,350, according to District 219’s itemized list of vendor payments for 2010.
Bruno Behrend, director for the nonprofit Center of School Reform at the Heartland Institute in Chicago, said he is not surprised by the practice.
“[School boards] will always cut a program or teacher before they cut an administrator or their own salary,” Behrend said. “It’s standard practice everywhere; you can get away with it.”
The money, which came from a $12 million budget to build an Olympic-sized swimming pool at , was paid to Freeman's startup business, Creative Ideas & Solutions.
Jim Szczepaniak, director of communications for District 219, said Freeman was also hired to oversee the pool's ongoing construction as part of the Niles North Aquatic Center.
“Bob is uniquely qualified to guide D219 on this critical project,” Szczepaniak said in an e-mail. “He has extensive experience working with school communities as a certified Aquatic Facility Operator.”
However, Freeman isn’t certified as an Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO), according to the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), the nonprofit in charge of AFO certification.
"Our written records go back seven years, but we do have an electronic database that goes back to the mid-nineties and beyond," a spokesperson for the NRPA said in an email. "And we have no record of Mr. Freeman in our database or our written records."
Someone who receives the certification is expected to be “knowledgeable in the systematic approach to pool operations including pool chemistry, management, pool safety and risk reduction,” according to the organization.
The organization also added that only people–and not businesses such as Creative Ideas & Solutions–could be certified.
Patch sought information from District 219 on whether Freeman’s AFO certification had ever been verified, but Szczepaniak declined to comment.
Gerry Yeggy, former business operations manager for the school system, told Patch that it is actually cheaper to hire a former administrator as a consultant than it is to hire a full-time employee.
“Benefits are about 28 percent of a [teacher's or administrator’s] salary,” he said. “In most instances it’s actually cheaper to hire a consultant.”
On June 30, 2008, Yeggy retired.
Yet, on Sept. 22 of that same year, Yeggy registered GYK Consulting in Illinois as a corporation. About two months later, the school district hired him as a consultant for $86,100 over a five-month period.
Yeggy told Skokie Patch that he was paid to advise his replacement, Paul O’Malley, who joined the district as the new business operations manager.
Like Freeman’s Creative Ideas & Solutions, GYK Consulting has no website nor does it list any indication of what it does.
In 1994, Yeggy was targeted in an investigation when he served as the assistant superintendent for business for Barrington’s Unit School District 220. Lake County State's Attorney's office found no evidence of criminal activity, but three administrators—including Yeggy—resigned in quick succession. Shortly afterward, Yeggy married Kay Geary, who was also school board president at District 220.
Kay Geary serves as the primary agent of the consulting firm that lists Yeggy as its secretary.
In District 219, the average salary for an administrator is $143,000. In Illinois, public sector pensions are paid out based on a four-year average of someone's salary with a 3 percent increase if he or she retires at the age of 55.
“Getting an administrative job in your final years of public service is like winning the lottery,” said Behrend of the Center of School Reform.
To read Part 2 of our investigative series, click here.