George Hopkins, director of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, has notified Frank Anthony, Pine Bluff school superintendent, of his decision on whether Anthony satisfied system rules that allowed him to begin drawing retirement pay as well as his regular superintendent pay.
Hopkins said the law prevented him from disclosing his decision or the letter he delivered by e-mail to Anthony this afternoon.
UPDATE: Anthony confirmed to reporters Friday evening that he'd received the letter and that Hopkins had concluded he had not met qualifications to both retire and draw a new paycheck. Anthony said he thought he had complied with the law and that he planned to be back at work Monday morning as superintendent. It wasn't clear Friday evening if he intended to attempt to retire again and meet terms of the law that would allow him to draw both retirement and pay benefits. Hopkins' decision doesn't affect his ability to serve as superintendent
Reporting on Anthony's retirement and rehiring by the School Board -- in tandem with advice Hopkins issued to all members of the retirement system in the spring -- had raised questions about whether Anthony met the legal requirement of a mandatory 30-day retirement period. He was not at work during that period, but questions lingered about whether he may have struck a deal with a School Board member to return to work before the 30-day period expired and the Board voted to rehire him. He indicated he talked to a School Board member the night before the board vote to hire him.
Anthony culd go through a 30-day retirement period again, after first giving ATRS 30 days to review a retirement application, to qualify for both retirement and regular pay. To do this, he could apply for retirement by Aug. 31 and work through Sept. 30 while ATRS reviewed the application. Then he could retire and be eligible to go back to work Oct. 31, if the School Board decided to rehire him. The previous Board decision was not unanimous and prompted some outcry among teachers and others.
Anthony retired June 30. The Board voted to rehire him July 30 for his previous pay of about $138,000 on top of his retirement benefits. Those benefits, for his 41 years of work, approached about two-thirds his regular pay.
It's not open to public view, but Anthony likely also qualified upon retirement to receive the proceeds of a T-DROP account, a deferred retirement account into which the retirement system can deposit 70 percent of a member's accrued retirement benefits for up to 10 years while the member continues to work. For a superintendent in Anthony's pay range, that DROP account could mount up to $500,000 or more.
Since he is not legally retired, Anthony will have to return the T-DROP money to the Retirement System until he is legally retired. He would also have to repay any retirement benefits he received since July 1.
A letter Hopkins sent to future retirees in May made it clear that July 1 retirees had to be totally removed from work for 30 days after they were cleared for retirement following a 30-day ATRS review period. "You must understand the separation requirement is real," he wrote.
Significantly, he added (my emphasis supplied0, "You cannot apply for a job in the separation period. You can have no connection to the district by agreement or understanding for future employement. .... You can sign no contracts and can make no deals until the total period is over." Potential retirees such as Anthony were asked to acknowledge Hopkins' letter, which was sent before a spate of controversies over double-dipping in state government broke out.
Thus an agreement reached by a member to return to work during that 30-day period, even if tentative, would make him ineligible for retirement.
The Pine Bluff School Board interviewed none of 15 other applicants for the job before meeting July 30 and voting to rehire Anthony. This surprise action led to belief that Anthony had had discussions with a School Board representative prior to that day about a willingness to return to work. Hopkins sent school officials a questionnaire about the circumstances.
There has been no reporting to indicate that Anthony worked for the district or retained any of the trappings of his job during the 30-day terimination period.