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Steska accepts top job at Illinois school

Saturday, January 19, 2002

Dan Steska, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District, has accepted a job as superintendent of a Normal, Ill., school district. The move will allow him to earn $75,000 a year in retirement benefits while drawing a salary of more than $100,000 a year in his new position.

Steska said Friday he has agreed to head McLean County Unit 5 School District. With more than 10,000 students, the district is more than twice as large as the 4,000-student Cape Girardeau School District.

He said he is taking the Illinois job so he can draw Missouri state teachers retirement benefits while continuing to work in education.

"If it wasn't for the retirement issue, I would be pleased to stay here," said Steska, who has worked as Cape Girardeau schools superintendent since July 1, 1999.

Educators under the Missouri Public School Retirement System are eligible to retire at any age with at least 30 years of service. Steska has worked in public school districts in Missouri for 30 years. He said that qualifies him to earn 75 percent of what his average salary was for the past three years as Cape Girardeau School District superintendent.

If he works in public schools in Illinois for five years, he also will be entitled to that state's teacher retirement benefits. If he stays only five years, he would be entitled to annual retirement benefits equal to about 10 percent of his Illinois salary as averaged over four years.

Steska, 52, said he isn't ready to quit education. "I still like what I'm doing," he said.

Will start July 1

Steska plans to begin his new job July 1. His hiring is contingent upon reaching agreement on salary and benefits, as well as his passing a criminal background check and a physical examination.

"I don't think I have any skeletons in the closet," he said as he sat in his Cape Girardeau office Friday afternoon.

While his salary hasn't been finalized, it is expected to be more than his current salary of $106,000 as Cape Girardeau School District superintendent. He is replacing an interim superintendent in the Illinois district who is making $120,000 this year.

Gail Ann Briggs, president of Unit 5 school board, said she plans to visit Cape Girardeau within the next few weeks to meet with Steska.

Briggs said she is pleased Steska wants to continue working as a school superintendent. "Quite frankly, I think he is in the prime of his leadership," she said.

Briggs touted Steska's experience in building a new high school, career and technology center and an elementary school.

Briggs said her district is growing by 200 students a year and has built eight schools in the past 26 years.

Steska, who is credited with turning around poor morale among faculty and staff in the Cape Girardeau district, announced last September that he would resign in June. Mark Bowles, assistant superintendent, was quickly picked to succeed Steska as superintendent.

Sought out-of-state job

He said he actively searched for a job out of state so he could take advantage of Missouri's retirement system.

In Missouri, retirees can't receive their full benefits if they go to work full time in public elementary and secondary schools, excluding Kansas City and St. Louis schools. But they can take full-time jobs out of state without losing any retirement benefits.

Steska said the Bloomington-Normal, Ill., area is similar to Cape Girardeau but much larger. The two cities have a combined population of 146,000, and the Unit 5 district is one of two school districts in the area, he said.

Steska said the Unit 5 district has about 1,500 employees, more than twice the number of Cape Girardeau's school system.

Steska and his wife, Sarah, a reading teacher, have three daughters and a son.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123


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