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Former City Colleges Chief Due $500,000 in Unused Sick Pay

Since stepping down in 2009, ex-chancellor Wayne Watson has received a wellness windfall—$300,000, so far—but he's not the only one benefiting from this sick system.

By Patrick Rehkamp/BGA, with the Chicago News Co-op

January 26, 2012 9:24 AM

For Wayne Watson, it sure paid to stay healthy.

By the time Watson left his job as chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago in 2009, he had accrued around 500 unused sick days over his three-decade career with the community college system.

While many public and private employers have a "use-it-or-lose-it" policy on sick time, City Colleges converted Watson’s unused days into cash – a whopping $500,000 that’s being paid to him in five annual increments, the Better Government Association has learned.

Watson, who now serves as president of Chicago State University, may be the largest recipient of sick-day payouts at City Colleges in recent years. What’s more, the combination of his City Colleges sick-day payout, current salary from Chicago State and annual pension means Watson takes in nearly $500,000 annually in government payments.

But he’s far from the only recipient of this taxpayer-funded largesse.

The college system owes about 140 former union and nonunion employees a collective $4.2 million in unused sick time, according to records provided by City Colleges to the BGA.

Over the past decade or so, this group of retirees has been paid just about $3 million, the records show.

It’s worth noting the City Colleges board, at the urging of current Chancellor Cheryl Hyman, voted this past November to eliminate the perk for nonunion employees hired after Jan. 1, 2012.

"Under the new sick day policy, [nonunion] employees will not be able to ‘cash out’ sick days at the end of employment," City Colleges Vice Chancellor Laurent Pernot told the BGA via email. The change was made to "save taxpayer resources," he added.

But for now, taxpayers are footing the bill for Watson, who would not comment for this story other than to say, "You’re asking me about three years ago and a different institution."

Aside from the $100,000 annually that City Colleges still is paying him for sick time, Watson is receiving nearly $140,000 a year in pension payouts through the State Universities Retirement System and $250,000 a year in salary from Chicago State, according to records and interviews.

Wayne Watson Jose Mora 365
Wayne Watson, ex-chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago (Jose More)

Watson was chancellor of City Colleges for 11 years, and was paid $300,000 annually at the time he retired. Under the system’s policy at the time, departing nonunion employees who meet certain age and service requirements were able to convert 80 percent of their unused sick time to cash, with no cap on how many days they could amass.

Under the new policy, nonunion employees can accrue up to 200 days of sick time. But they aren’t allowed to cash out any of those days when they leave the college system, Pernot said.

On the rank-and-file side, employees represented by the Cook County College Teachers Union who were hired before July 15, 2000, can cash out 80 percent of their unused sick days upon leaving City Colleges, so long as they meet certain age and service requirements. And there’s no cap on the number of days they can collect.

Union members hired on or after July 15, 2000, can cash out a maximum of 80 unused sick days.

City Colleges, in upcoming negotiations, hopes to bring the union side in line with nonunion employees, Pernot said.

Dennis Nirtaut, a professor of human resources and employment relations at Loyola University Chicago, said the private sector began killing off this type of perk years ago, and rightly so.

Told of Watson’s situation, Nirtaut said, "Essentially it’s a liability. To cash it out when you leave, that’s a big liability on top of his pension. It’s kind of like a double dip and taxpayers are paying for it. I personally think it’s a poor policy."

The sick days do not factor into Watson’s City Colleges pension, which is based on his former salary and years of service there, officials said. (He is not expected to draw another pension for his Chicago State employment, officials said.)

Meanwhile, at least 15 other former City Colleges administrators were owed $100,000 or more in sick-time payouts over the past decade or so, records show.

For example, Charles Guengerich, former president of Wilbur Wright College on the Northwest Side, is slated to receive $309,061 in sick time. Martin Faber, former executive director of business services at Richard J. Daley College on the Southwest Side, is expected to receive $216,973.

City Colleges has about 120,000 students at seven main campuses, and an annual budget of more than $650 million.

The graduation rate – which charts students getting a two-year degree within three years – was 8 percent this past year, Pernot said. A goal of Hyman and her boss, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is to increase that rate, graduating more students but also providing more meaningful training and education that translate to better careers, officials said.

Watson accumulated so many sick days in part because he was able to convert some unused vacation time into sick days, a policy for nonunion employees that’s still allowed. (Nonunion employees also are able to cash out up to 30 unused vacation days upon leaving City Colleges. When Watson departed in 2009, he was slated to receive about $37,000 as a vacation-day payout, records show.)

Either way, based on the records, his health was pretty good during the decade before he retired. They show that he took 11.5 sick days from 2000 until his retirement.

This story was written and reported by BGA Senior Investigator Patrick Rehkamp, with the Chicago News Cooperative. BGA intern Mari Grigaliunas contributed to this report. To contact Rehkmap, email prehkamp@bettergov.org or call (312) 386-9201.

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Dave
While this may look like some sort of gift, the man could have stayed home for $300,000 worth of salary during his career. Regardless of how other agencies handle this, there is an argument that we wanted this guy on the job during the prime of his career and not home laying in bed. Agencies that have more stringent "use it ore lose it" policies have substantially more sick leave usage, which hinders the productivity of the agency much more compared to giving the benefit to the employee that has retired.The bottom line is that it is a wash if one is only talking about dollars earned and dollars paid. I don't get why some find this so hard to comprehend.
11:21 AM Jan 26th
Anonymous
Probably because sick time is supposed to be used if you're actually sick, and not as paid vacation or pension money
5:35 PM Jan 26th
Anonymous
...it is also why most people don't get paid for unused sick time upon termination, but do get paid for unused vacation time. One is an "insurance" policy for the employee so that he/she does not lose wages if ill, one is an actual earned benefit. There IS supposed to be a difference
5:42 PM Jan 26th
Mike
Dave, in the "real world," people only take "sick time" if they are sick. True, there can be some abuse, but if one is "sick" for a period beyond one week - then you need a doctor's note.Also, in the non-real world (non-govt/union employment) we don't get to cash out unused sick or vacation time. Period. And it certainly wouldn't be unused sick time from 15 years ago - when you made significantly less - paid out at a rate where you made significantly more.Most of us in the normal world, who pay for these type of benefits, don't have "these type of benefits." And we're very, very tired of paying for them.
11:42 AM Jan 27th
Anonymous
You should walk across the street and see what goes on over there at the CCC headquarters...Pizza parties, a big black Hybrid SUV just to drive the Chancellor around, conference rooms on very floor, hundreds of newspapers delivered every day(can't they pay for these themselves), and security... what are they afraid of, elevators propped open, just in case "Her Highness" wants to leave in a hurry, etc.
4:05 PM Jan 27th
Anonymous
The CCC headquarters building at 226 W. Jackson is more than one hundred years old! Of course the elevators are propped open. There are usually at least two of them that aren't running properly.
10:50 PM Feb 6th
M. Wigs
WHAT WOULD happen if the SHAKMAN accord were expanded to the sister agencies? What ever would the tiny dancer do - beyond having one of his infamous DC hissy fits? Blue dog minds want to know Rahm.; what would you do? More importantly Rahm, what would you do if you couldn't blame people who pay into a pension system and pay NO SSN taxes? Shame on you! Blame me for Chicago's.Illinois; woes? Let's talk. Between you and I, I'm not the parasite that you were in DC. BTW, I had a 401K when I worked in DC. What did you have? Congressional Pension? SallieMae dividends (earned at students' expense?) Public PARASITE, meet parasite...
5:19 AM Feb 11th

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