Former Superintendent Jack McLaughlin, whose chaotic two-year tenure at Stockton Unified School District remains one of the most contentious in recent history, topped the list of the biggest pension payouts in the Valley and Sacramento region, taking home $266,899 from CalSTRS in 2014, Transparent California reported Thursday.

McLaughlin was hired in 2006 for $230,000 a year, less than the pension he now receives. He was the 16th highest-paid pensioner on the list statewide. Stockton Unified was seventh on the list of the 10 biggest school districts by total payroll in the Sacramento and Central Valley region, and Lodi Unified was ninth.

“I do think it’s outlandish, you can quote me on that,” said former Stockton Unified Trustee Beverly Fitch McCarthy, who along with then-Trustee Bill Ross frequently clashed with McLaughlin, who stepped down in 2008 after a stormy reign that was marred by a football recruiting scandal at Franklin High School led by a friend he hired, the loss of millions in federal grants and fractious politics that split the district for years to come.

McLaughlin now owns Instruction Logic, an educational consulting firm in Carson City, Nev., established well before his tenure with SUSD. Calls to the company for comment were not returned Thursday.

“We need to do something to fix these salaries, they’re too much,” Ross said. “Retirements are just too much. These burgeoning costs for retirement are unreal. The boards have got to wise up and see what’s going on. Everybody thinks that government work is a big handout, and unfortunately it is. They’re to do a service to the public, not to be sucking it dry.”

California Policy Center President Mark Bucher agreed. “Pension retirement benefits are all negotiated primarily by the local school boards, so what can be done is the boards can say we’re not willing to pay these kinds of benefits,” Bucher said Thursday, saying the six-figure payouts challenge the popular conception of the poor retired teacher struggling to get by on a fixed pension and offer better context for hot-button issues surrounding teacher contracts and compensation.

“It’s the elected official that we’re voting for right in our cities that are paying these pensions that are essentially taking dollars right out of the classrooms,” he said. “How many teachers could we be paying instead of paying someone now to not work?”

Transparent California, the state’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation, released 2014 pension records for 256,305 CalSTRS pensioners Thursday morning, which the organization received through a series of public records requests. The data reveals that at just the 10 biggest school districts in Sacramento and the Central Valley, 308 CalSTRS pensioners took home pension payouts of $100,000 or more in 2014. Statewide, that figure topped 8,888. The average pension for those who worked 30 years or more at these districts was $63,682 for the year, not including health benefits. Of those who retired in 2000 and later, the figure was $70,084.

CalSTRS, funded by contributions by members, employing school districts, investment earnings and the state, is the largest teachers’ retirement fund in the country and the 13th largest in the world. As a member, McLaughlin would have paid into the system, much like Social Security, and his pension is based on more than 41 years of service.

Other noteworthy local educators on the list include retired San Joaquin County Office of Education’s Superintendent Fredrick Wentworth at $238,833.96 and retired second in command Gary Dei Rossi at $173,124.18; former Stockton Unified Superintendents Gary McHenry at $213,885.42 and Carl Toliver at $174,568.68; and former acting Superintendent Steve Vaczovsky, $193,155.23. Len Casanega, former Lodi Unified assistant superintendent of personnel, is the district’s highest pensioner at $211,751.

Bucher said public reaction to the release has been overwhelming.

“People are shocked by the numbers. The general public has no idea. Nobody knows this is going on,” he said. “The public has no idea this is one of the key reasons the schools are struggling so much with their funds, that its being spent on unconscionable pensions.”

“If there’s any chance of fixing these salaries of these retiring big shots by legislation, I would be on board to do that,” Fitch McCarthy said.

For now, at least, that looks unlikely, Bucher said. “Certainly the Legislature could put caps on what could be paid, but the Legislature hasn’t shown any interest in doing that, and we don’t expect it anytime soon,” he said.

As Stockton Unified searches for its next permanent superintendent, the timing of the release could be pivotal, he said.

“The people that run the Stockton Unified School District should be looking long and hard at what’s going to be promised when he’s retired.”

Contact reporter Elizabeth Roberts at (209) 546-8268 or eroberts@recordnet.com. Follow her on Twitter @eroberts209.

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