The board that oversees Christie Lane is planning to offer its superintendent a new contract to avoid controversy over an unusual severance package.
Dr. Dee Zeffiro-Krenisky’s contract is valid from 2004 through 2008, but it contains a clause that promises to pay the superintendent half of her salary if she is not rehired for the following four years. Those four years take her up to the date she is eligible for retirement.
State law prohibits Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MRDD) boards from contracts longer than five years for management personnel.
Zeffiro-Krenisky, whose base salary this year is slightly less than $100,000, said she never suggested the clause. “They asked when I thought I would be eligible for retirement and it would be 2012,” she said this afternoon, adding that the board or the board’s attorney must have come up with the idea for the clause.
She said the contract was drafted by a lawyer with Blaugrund, Herbert and Martin, a Columbus law firm. The prosecutor’s office reviewed and approved the contract, which was drafted in 2003.
When asked if such a severance package was fair to taxpayers, Zeffiro-Krenisky refused to comment.
The Rev. Fred Weichers, a current MRDD board member, said he was unaware of the contract’s clause. “I’m not sure how it got in there. We don’t know how the prosecutor let that get through,” he said. “We’re going to be offering her another contract.”
After Jan. 1, the board can offer Zeffiro-Krenisky a five-year contract that would keep her at Christie Lane until she retires.
Former board member Lillian Kirkpatrick, who served as president in 2003, said the severance package was not an attempt to bypass the five-year contract limit set by state law. “Over the years, we’ve had a lot of problems with superintendents and we finally got one that was doing a fabulous job and we wanted to keep her around as long as possible,” she said.
Kirkpatrick said everyone on the board knew about the clause. “The whole board was aware of anything that went into her contract,” she said.
Former Christie Lane employee Lysa Cook and her husband, David,questioned Zeffiro-Krenisky’s contract after comparing it to those for others superintendents in Ohio. After checking more than 40 contracts, David Cook said he found no others with severance packages for superintendents. He spoke about his concerns at the Huron County Commissioners meeting this morning.
Lysa Cook was not rehired after her five-year contract with Christie Lane expired in August. She contends the non-renewal came as a result of her reporting possible abuse of a student by a teacher who is a close friend of Zeffiro-Krenisky. The superintendent would not comment on her reason for Cook not being retained.
Zeffiro-Krenisky’s contract contained another clause that was changed this year on the advice of the Huron County Auditor’s office. The original contract included an investment package that paid $500 per month directly into an investment account for Zeffiro-Krenisky.
Beginning Jan. 1, the investment package was eliminated and her salary was raised $6,000. That brings her base salary up to $99,143 for 2007.
She explained that this clause was added to her contract because she agreed to take on the additional duty of direct supervisor for the school staff. She said the board suggested the investment package after Patrick Murray retired as supervisor of school staff and she agreed to take on some of his duties.
Another perk in Zeffiro-Krenisky’s contract adds up to another 9.5 percent or $9,418 savings for her because the board pays her employee contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).
All government employees may enroll in PERS. The system requires the employer, in Zeffiro-Krenisky’s case the county and its taxpayers, to pay 13.85 percent of the employee’s salary into a retirement account. Typically, another 9.5 percent is automatically deducted from the employee’s pay to add to the account. Zeffiro-Krenisky gets to keep her money since the board pays her share.
But Zeffiro-Krenisky is not the only county employee who receives this perk. The MRDD board also pays both employer and employee contributions for Allyn Schnellinger, business manager for Christie Lane. The board pays 4.25 percent of the employee PERS contribution for all other Christie Lane employees.
Dennis Steiber, who works for the county auditor, said Huron County picks up the 9.5 percent for all health department employees and also pays the entire amount for Jean King and Roger Wilkinson, employees the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) board.
The amount the county pays will increase again next year as the state is raising the rates to the maximum of 10 percent for the employee and 14 percent for the employer.
Zeffiro-Krenisky also has vacation and sick day allowances that can add up to cash. She receives five weeks of vacation and is allowed 15 days of sick leave each year. She has no limit on the amount of sick leave she can accumulate and, on retirement, can cash in those sick days for one-half of their value.
She can also cash in up to two weeks of vacation days each year for a rate based on her salary at the time. Zeffiro-Krenisky cashed in two weeks in 2006 for $3,456. If she cashes in two week this year, she would get another $3,582.
In the last three years of her severance package - 2010 to 2012 - Zeffiro-Krenisky will be able to cash out more unused vacation time.
Based on her current contract, Zeffiro-Krenisky will earn $113,000 in base pay in 2012. She will still not have to pay her portion of retirement, saving herself $11,300. She also will be able to trade up to 9.5 weeks of accumulated vacation time for $9,259 and can get full value from any unused vacation time for the final three years of the contract.