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Board member worries plan to rehire superintendent could leave Cape school district exposed

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The vote was 5-0, but it was not unanimous.

When the Cape Girardeau School Board last month agreed to release superintendent Jim Welker from his contract so that he could temporarily retire, Paul Nenninger was the only member present who did not vote for the motion. He abstained.

Nenninger said he didn't want to appear as if he opposed the superintendent, who, in his nearly three years at the helm of the Cape Girardeau School District has earned high praise from the board, educators and community members. Nenninger is opposed to the idea of a move he believes could expose the district to unnecessary risk, an allowance that he says could set a dangerous personnel precedent.

"The process we're following here exposes the district to a risk we don't need to take," he said. "It creates a void."

Should Welker have a change of heart about his plans to briefly retire and then come back under a new contract, Nenninger said, it would leave the district vulnerable in trying to fill the vacancy at the worst possible time -- the beginning of the school year.

Welker insists he has no intention of leaving the district, that he plans to return following a one-month retirement, if the board will have him back.

Welker's retirement, beginning July 1, will allow him to tap into part of his state pension to meet his college debts. He will file for the retirement benefit he has accrued over his 33 years in the Missouri public education system. He would receive the benefit for July and would be able to withdraw a partial lump sum. Under pension law, he could have no contact with the district until Aug. 1, when he says he will pursue a new contract with the board.

Similar proposals outlined in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article in October have been roundly criticized by opponents who see such arrangements as an end run around a provision that was never designed as an alternative to retirement. But Welker said he isn't "double-dipping," that the plan in no way would cost taxpayers or the Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri any more money.

Welker has said he wants to enter into a three-year contract, identical to the contract he signed three years ago, at the same salary. He earns $135,000 a year, not including benefits, which are similar to those of his employees.

On Tuesday, Welker reiterated his desire to return to the district's executive post. While he said he respects Nenninger's opinions, Welker said he has made his intentions clear to the board.

"I would not subject myself to all of this if I did not plan to come back, or at least hope to come back to pursue employment with the district after July," he said. "I really don't believe it does expose the district unduly."

Nenninger isn't so sure.

"Lots of things happen when you retire. Jim's never retired, I've done it," Nenninger said, noting that money can alter even the best of intentions. "He could have the chance to make even more money in a different situation that may be too good to pass up."

It's a concern for a school district that has seen, as one board member put it, a revolving door of superintendents, with four coming through in the 11 years before Welker was hired in February 2008.

Welker sought advice from officials at the retirement system in a letter dated Oct. 11, a day after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article appeared.

Nenninger said he's also concerned the board's decision could set a difficult precedent, opening the door to other employees who may seek the same consideration. Some educators in the district have expressed concerns that the board is not following its own policies, which stipulate that returning retirees may not earn more than 50 percent of their prior salary for the same position. That, however, is one of the misconceptions among many, board members say, surrounding the retirement issue.

The policy, crafted from retirement system law, includes the "550 rule," the provision mandating that retired public school employees drawing their pension benefits cannot work in a state school system more than 550 hours in a year, and may not receive more than 50 percent of their previous compensation. Welker would not be a retired employee; he would be a new employee under a new contract, and his retirement benefit would be frozen upon his return to work.

Al Thompson, general counsel for Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri, confirmed Welker would be in compliance with the law and would not have to forfeit half his income.

While he said he understands Welker's interest in taking care of his education debts, Nenninger said it's "just hard to figure his personal issues should be paramount to our district issues of keeping continuity without any risk to the district."

Board president Stacy Kinder was not at last month's meeting releasing Welker from his contract, but she said she would have voted for the motion. She said she appreciates Nenninger's concerns but that the board isn't setting a dangerous precedent. Welker's request comes with unique circumstances, Kinder said, but that the matter boils down to trust.

"I trust him when he says he wants to come back, and I am very happy with his performance," she said. "It's a tricky deal for him, too; he's putting a lot of trust in us" that the board will offer a new contract.

As board member Phil Moore put it, pension law prohibits any "prearrangement" or promises between the board and the superintendent. It doesn't appear Welker will have any competition for the job, however.

"My understanding is we don't have to post the position," Kinder said. "If we do have to, we will."

Thompson said there is no obligation under the state retirement system to do so.



Pertinent Address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau MO

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In the unlikely event he decides not to come back, somebody else will step up to the plate; everybody is replaceable.

-- Posted by tom on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 12:25 AM

No problem as long as other staff have the same privelage.

-- Posted by Sharky on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 5:06 AM

Some things which are legal are not right. If a person is willing to exploit a loophole for his personal benefit what does this say about his values and his decision-making ability? I worry about his ethics and those of the board members who voted to allow this! Just a group of individuals voting to allow a 'friend' to slip his hand a bit deeper into the coffers.

-- Posted by Robert* on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 6:18 AM

So he retires early? Don't let him come back! How simple is that?

-- Posted by B man on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 6:35 AM

This is a strong case against investigative reporting in our State. The STL PD writes a critical article about a new bad idea by EERS and the very next day come folks who couldn't think up this scheme for themselves.

STL PD please stop advertising our state government's ignorance.

-- Posted by rain/rain/go/away on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 6:38 AM

Shouldn't the schoolboard be interviewing potential replacements for Dr. Welker's position....that might give the Supt pause to his controversial retirement plans.

-- Posted by greeneagle5 on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 6:45 AM

Why is this news again? Wasn't this thoroughly covered when it was originally voted upon? Move on, and quit trying to inject controversy where none exists. It is apparent that the board appreciates the current superintendent's performance and thinks his continued service will be good for the district. They must also believe he will do what he says. They are the ones who have the information and the working relationship, and they made the decision. Time will tell if they made the right one. Let's move on to more relevant stories.

-- Posted by wonderwoman63703 on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 7:11 AM

Because, ms wonderwoman, the money that pays the superintendent doesn't come from heaven, it comes from our tax dollars. And the board is responsible to the taxpayers for their actions. More importantly is that we keep calling this a "loophole" as if it were indeed. The reality is that Welker is lying to the retirement fund when he tells them he is retired, when he knows he is not really and has no intention of being retired. The board is condoning that lie, when they know that Welker is not really retired and they have every intention of hiring him back. What a fine example for our students: lies are okay and "under the table" agreements are the way to transact business. If that doesn't fuss you, how about the fact that we have given this employee a one month vacation, forcing someone else to do his job in his absence, during what should be the very busiest time of the year for him?

-- Posted by ParkerDaws on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 8:37 AM

The super bags $135K a year plus bennies, and he has a challenge paying off a school loan?

Excuses only sound good to the people that make them.

-- Posted by Hawker on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 8:47 AM

How is it unethical or lying when it is an option that is available to any employee? He sought the advice of PSRS and they game him this option. Nothing shady about that, just smart!

-- Posted by supersemo on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 8:50 AM

Hawker, I was thinking the same thing.33 years and still has education loans due?

-- Posted by mohacker on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 8:51 AM

Let's not condone a clear exploitation of a loophole here. Plenty of available resources to take over the position.

-- Posted by Beaker on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 10:47 AM

3 people I have recently lost all respect for.

corp of engineers, Cape school board, and Cape School superintendent

-- Posted by spudman1 on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 10:56 AM

Come on, he worked at Jackson for several years at around $100,000 now at Cape for 3 years at $135,000 not counting his fringe benefits, a wife that works in Jackson as a teacher probably at $50,000 and he can't pay his school loans? Yeah, right. It looks like he could have come up with a better excuse to pull this one off. I'm like the board member, this is one slick move. I can't understand the motive, but I don't think I'm stupid enough not to smell a rat!! I wonder if the district would take a chance like this for all employees?

-- Posted by wolfwoman on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 11:10 AM

give him a break, you would do the same thing at your own job if you could. the problem is that the public school retirement group needs to amend their own bylaws to close loopholes.

-- Posted by insider63785 on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 11:19 AM

No! Give him a pink slip. I hope the door hits him in his rear on his way out.

-- Posted by GREYWOLF on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 11:36 AM

Insider, I agree the public school retirement need to get their act together. And I guess as long as other school personnel get the same deal, and can still teach with a handshake rather than a contract all's fair.

-- Posted by wolfwoman on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 11:38 AM


What lies and "under the table" agreements are you referring to? The way I read the initial article was that Dr. Welker was very forthcoming with both the school board and retirement board. Whether it is right or wrong I don't see where anybody is lying about anything.

-- Posted by eagle87 on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 12:17 PM

What a Joke!

-- Posted by thewonder on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 12:18 PM

Board has opened a big fat can of sardines. If I teacher request simular treatment, the district will have to follow the exact same protocal.

Allow super to be hired back without a pending contract, must hire back teacher. Don't advertise super position, can't advertise teacher position.

Big fat can of sardines, that stinks!

-- Posted by pigskin on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 12:39 PM

Hawker, mohacker, I agree with you both. Even if he went for all his credentials, he should have had them paid off by now. Unless he found other things to spend that money on. They say the more you make the more you spend. It sure would be nice to make 135,000 a year.

-- Posted by muffin77 on Wed, May 18, 2011, at 3:06 PM

"A people that values its priveleges above its principles soon loses both."


-- Posted by IonU on Thu, May 19, 2011, at 6:34 PM

Strange how time goes by the southest missourian has went from 'Dr. James Welker' to 'Jim Welker' or just 'Welker'..I guess soon it'll be 'Jimmy'

-- Posted by peter_grant on Fri, May 20, 2011, at 8:47 AM

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