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Aurora Superintendent Bennett gets vigorous support from residents at public hearing

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published: February 13, 2013 12:00 AM
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Aurora -- Superintendent Russ Bennett received plenty of support Feb. 6 at the Aurora Board of Education's public hearing regarding his retirement and potential rehiring.

Bennett announced in November he was retiring as of Feb. 28, then the Board of Education said in December it intended to rehire him.

By rehiring Bennett, School Board President Jerry Kohanski said the district would save about $125,000 over the course of Bennett's proposed 40-month contract, which would extend through June 30, 2016.

The Board took no action Feb. 6.

Kohanski said the possible compensation for Bennett's new contract will be discussed by the Board in executive session. When an amount has been agreed upon, Kohanski said a final conract will be nogotiated and it will be voted on at the Board's Feb. 25 meeting.

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He said Bennett's new yearly pay would be for a lower base salary than his current $132,000 and would contain fewer benefits.

Kohanski said the retire/rehire scenario is "the new reality for school boards dealing with superintendent vacancies because of recent changes to the STRS [State Teachers Retirement System] pension system enacted by the state legislature."

Each time a speaker in favor of rehiring Bennett finished talking, the audience of about 50 people at Leighton School applauded loudly.

"THERE ARE many of us [school employees] who would go to the moon and back for this man [Bennett]," resident and district teacher Angie Frankmann said. "We work hard for him because we want to. Nobody can replace the passion he has. I dread the day when we do have to replace him."

Resident Kim Elliott said Bennett displays "dedication and loyalty. My biggest problem is that he's only committing for four more years."

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"Mr. Bennett has a proven track record," resident Scott Holman said. "He is being fiscally responsible. Mr. Bennett has chosen this [path], and we're saving money."

Resident Pam Roach said Bennett is doing "an unbelievable job. We have a lot to be proud of because of him."

Realtor and resident Sherry Gloor said the main reason people move to Aurora is because of the schools.

"Mr. Bennett loves this community as much as we do and takes a personal interest in students," she said.

However, not everyone agreed with the rehiring.

Resident Sharon Berringer said she believes "it is wrong to double-dip."

"I don't care if other schools do it," Berringer said. "We should give the job opportunity to other people. If he chooses to retire, that means he should retire."

Resident Rita Scott also spoke against the double-dipping practice.

Resident Maria Dennison, though, said, "Everyone does it. It's the last vestige of loyalty that an employee gets. If you put all the emotion aside, Mr. Bennett has done an exemplary job."

Bennett said he was humbled by the support.

"I am extremely blessed to grow up in Aurora and become a teacher and administrator here," Bennett said. "This is where my heart is. To hear so many kind words is very humbling.

"TONIGHT, it was about me," he said of the public hearing required by law. "But it's not about me; it's about the kids. That's why I got into this business. I love the job, the kids and the people I work with. We've built something great, and our work is not done."

Kohanski said the market for a viable superintendent is competitive, and a search for a new superintendent could last up to 18 months, which could require an interim superintendent to be hired.

Kohanski said Bennett, 52, has "an outstanding track record, strong credibility with the Ohio Department of Education, excellent knowledge of the district and community, and a high enthusiasm level for working in Aurora."

Bennett previously said although he enjoys his daily interaction with staff and students, Ohio's recently passed new pension legislation makes the timing for his retirement compelling.

Bennett has served in the district for 30 years as a teacher, coach and principal, plus the last eight years as superintendent.

Because of the new Ohio laws, Bennett said he expects many public employees to retire when they reach the 30-year mark in their careers.

On Dec. 17, the Board adopted a resolution proclaiming its intention to rehire Bennett as superintendent for 40 months.

"The Board bases its decision on an overwhelming response from the community favoring Mr. Bennett's rehiring and on his willingness to enter into negotiations with the district on a new contract," Kohanski said.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

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anonymous Feb 14, 2013 7:43 AM

Since this is a such a good idea, why was it not announced prior to the November new tax levy? How much will the private sector taxpayer, who had no pension and no cost of living adjustment, have to pay in new taxes to support the expectation of teachers and administrators to now be able to retire at 52 with a full pension and full benefits and even be rehired? I remember when the term fuzzy math was in vogue but somehow paying a person twice for the same job sounds expensive. and so does the new normal of retiring with 90% pay for life in your early 50s. I fully understand why teachers would applaud Mr. Bennett and the Board for this. They have now set the precedent to have educators retire at 52 and then be rehired with the combined payouts being a bit less than double what they were making and this saves money. Mr. Bennett as Superintendent leads the negotiation with the teachers so he will have a hard time asking for concessions when he has just put his personal interests above the district in order to maximize his retirement. The teachers will naturally insist on similar treatment. Why not? Aurora's schools have a good reputation. There used to be a concern for fiscal restraint. That is long gone. Now the leadership is fully operating in a tax and spend mode while the typical Aurora taxpayer is aging and does not live in a world where he or she gets paid almost full salary for life. This is the height of irresponsibility.