Taxpayers in Lincoln-Way High School District 210 paid $368,148 into an annuity account for ex-Superintendent Lawrence Wyllie, newly released records and interviews show.
The annuity is a second publicly funded retirement benefit for Wyllie, who is currently collecting a $312,000 pension — the largest in the state’s teachers fund. The school board voted on April 7, 2004, to approve Wyllie’s annuity, as part of a broader vote on 2004-05 administration and support staff salaries, Vice President Christine Glatz said. The April 7, 2004, meeting minutes do not mention the annuity.
The district first bought the annuity in June 2004 and the agent on the policy was Wyllie’s son, Christopher Wyllie, account statements released by the district and interviews show.
When Wyllie retired in the summer of 2013, Lincoln-Way High School District 210 transferred ownership of the annuity to him, records show. A March 2013 policy statement released by the district shows the annuity was worth $515,685 at the time.
To some, Wyllie’s annuity represents a broader trend of questionable spending by district officials that has drained Lincoln-Way’s finances. The district landed on the state’s financial watch list in 2015 after years of deficit spending, where the district remains.
Told of the annuity account by the Daily Southtown, government experts and school district residents criticized the expense. Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, called Wyllie’s retirement package “exorbitant.”
“It seems inappropriate for the taxpayers to be paying into two separate (retirement) accounts for one public figure,” Brune said.
Steve Eberhardt, an attorney who represents Lincoln-Way Area Taxpayers Unite in a lawsuit aimed at preventing the cash-strapped district from shuttering Lincoln-Way North high school, questioned the annuity’s purpose and said it’s wasteful.
“What’s the justification for giving him this extra third of a million (tax) dollars?” Eberhardt said.
Asked about criticism of the annuity, Glatz released a statement.
“The annuity awarded to (Wyllie) by the Board of Education was based on performance and retention during a time of transition within the District,” Glatz said. “The additional compensation did not add to his base salary nor his pensionable earnings.”
Lawrence Wyllie, who led the district from 1989 to 2013, did not return messages seeking comment. Christopher Wyllie, who works for AXA Advisors as a vice president according to the company’s website, declined to discuss what he called “private information.”
A spokesman for AXA later said Christopher Wyllie “was not involved in any way in the financial negotiations between his father and the school district.”
In recent months, the Daily Southtown has reported extensively on questionable financial practices, private uses of public resources and questionable deals benefiting insiders at the district.
Months before retiring, Wyllie signed a no-bid 10-year contract extension with Frankfort-based Aunt Nancy’s day care, which uses spaces at each of the district’s four schools rent-free.
The school board never formally approved the deal, Superintendent Scott Tingley previously said.
Lincoln-Way also bought at least $90,000 worth of playground equipment for Aunt Nancy’s, drawing criticism from government experts and parents who said the district should not subsidize a private business.
Oak Lawn-based Community High School District 218 has a similar deal with a private day care provider at one of its buildings but unlike Lincoln-Way charges its contractor $76,250 a year in “cost-recovery” fees.
In 2007, Lincoln-Way bought $5 million worth of farmland in Manhattan Township, apparently without an appraisal, in a deal that benefited the Lincoln-Way Foundation president’s firm.
Lincoln-Way’s former grounds director, Paul Gonzalez, in 2013 ordered “a few school district employees” to do private work in Wyllie’s Frankfort subdivision, records show.
He also ordered an employee to create a memorial plaque for Wyllie’s father, records show.
In 2010 and 2011, Wyllie spent nearly $45,000 in public funds to build Superdog, a dog training school that Tingley said had “no student benefit.” That school is run by a trainer who has worked with Wyllie and his dogs.
From 2013 to 2015, a time when the district’s financial situation was rapidly deteriorating, the district paid out $272,000 in retirement bonuses for 18 employees, including $16,000 for Wyllie, records show.
The district has also paid $199,113 in penalties to the state pension system.
During his last three years as superintendent, while the district’s finances tumbled, records show Wyllie also used his district-issued credit card to pay for meals, dog training books, hundreds of leadership texts, dozens of sweaters and a $106 teddy bear for his office.
More recently, Lincoln-Way emailed parents last month to say it is issuing refunds to driver’s ed students who were improperly charged $350 for classes, a mistake the district estimated would cost about $400,000.
The district was given more than a year’s notice that it had to renew its permission from the state to charge $350 but the district won’t explain how it failed to get state approval to charge $350.
Days after news of the $400,000 mistake broke, the board accepted Assistant Superintendent for Business Ron Sawin’s early retirement and released a copy of his retirement agreement, showing there is “currently a dispute” between Lincoln-Way and Sawin over his job performance.
Wyllie’s annuity is particularly controversial because he is already collecting a $312,000 pension from the state. That figure has drawn criticism not only because of its size but because it was derived using an obscure, now-abolished actuarial calculation that boosted Wyllie’s payout higher than any salary he’d ever received from the district.
Brian Murray, a Frankfort resident, said he was upset by the annuity approval process, which he said wasn’t transparent. Murray also said that the annuity is excessive because the school district already knew Wyllie had a taxpayer-funded pension coming.
“It seems wrong to me,” Murray said.