10:35 PM PDT on Friday, July 29, 2011

By BRIAN ROKOS
The Press-Enterprise

PDFs: See the contract for John Peukert

PDFs: See the contract for Mel Albiso

In a summer in which the San Bernardino City Unified School District laid off teachers and negotiated pay cuts for other employees, the school board gave two veteran administrators thousands of dollars in new retirement benefits out of fear they would retire — even though board members said the pair never announced plans to do so.

The added benefits given to Mel Albiso and John Peukert have upset union officials, and board President Danny Tillman said he is concerned that the boost will make it difficult to ask employees for wage concessions in future negotiations.

“I’ve been on the board 16 years, and this is the worst action I’ve ever seen the board take,” said Tillman, who cast the lone dissenting vote in a closed session June 21. “We would have been better off having them leave. There is no justification for giving those employees that compensation.”

Board members Teresa Parra Craig, Judi Penman, Barbara Flores, Lynda Savage and Elsa Valdez voted yes; Louise Ayala was absent.

Albiso and Peukert could not be reached for comment.

Albiso, the associate superintendent/chief administrative officer, has been with the district for 21 years. Peukert is the assistant superintendent for facilities and operations.

He has been with the district for 28 years.

The total value of their new benefits will depend upon how long Albiso and Peukert continue to work.

Albiso’s base pay is $151,188. His new contract gives him four years of retiree healthcare beyond what managers receive. The district estimated the cost for the four years at $60,292, district spokeswoman Linda Bardere said.

Peukert, who makes $148,224 in base pay, got a different deal. As long as he’s on the job, the district will pay $4,200 a year so that he can receive a more expensive Kaiser healthcare plan instead of the free health plan offered to managers.

This “buy-up” is usually paid for by the employees.

Additionally, Albiso and Peukert will not have to pay the 7 percent employee’s contribution into the California Public Employees Retirement System, as other district employees do. The annual cost to the district for that retirement contribution will be $10,407 for Albiso and $10,214 for Peukert.

“Unbelievable. I’m shocked,” said Charlie LaChance, labor relations representative for the local chapter of the California School Employees Association, which represents nonteachers such as secretaries and food-service workers.

She said the district is asking the union to accept a 5 percent pay cut in each of the next three school years. LaChance said she is angry that “they would want to diminish the lowest-paid employees while increasing the pay of these two employees.”

When school opens Monday, the district will be without 111 teachers it laid off because of a lack of money. Rebecca Harper, president of the San Bernardino Teachers Association, said teachers have taken pay cuts three years in a row.

“It doesn’t seem fair to the teachers in San Bernardino to go through the pay-cut experience when two already top-paid employees are getting a raise,” she said.

Tillman said he is more concerned with the effect of the raises than on the actual cost to the district.

“If you don’t have people who have a sense of confidence in the board that we are going to be fair, how do you ask for additional concessions?” Tillman said.

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