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updated: 9/14/2011 4:56 AM

What your tips helped our suburban watchdog find

Pension double dip, teachers' tip, lottery firm donations

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  • Mohsin Dada

      Mohsin Dada

  • Northstar contributors

    Graphic: Northstar contributors

  • Detailed donations

    Graphic: Detailed donations

  • Donated dollars

    Graphic: Donated dollars

 
 

Already eligible for a $250,000 pension, a public school retiree is getting started on a new public pension, courtesy of taxpayers.

Staff members at a Schaumburg school spent a morning in Lake Geneva at a team-building retreat this summer and got paid $150 each.

The companies and advisers behind the Illinois Lottery's private management firm have a lengthy history of donating to politicians and political organizations.

These are some of the stories that emerged from the tips, suggestions, comments and critiques readers have sent in since the inception of the Suburban Tax Watchdog column in May.

Some of those missives have blossomed into full columns, while others are still being investigated or just didn't pan out.

Then there are some tips with meat on them, but not enough to devote a full column to them. Nonetheless, these are important issues that should be scrutinized. That's what we're presenting today. Call it "watchdog kibble," if you'd like.

Dada's doings:

The $340,000 annual salary of Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 Assistant Superintendent Mohsin Dada was the focal point of the inaugural watchdog column.

Dada wrapped up his 15-plus year career with the district in May and was expected to begin collecting a yearly pension estimated to start at around $250,000. But that didn't happen.

Instead, Dada took a new job with North Shore Elementary District 112 in Highland Park as the district's chief financial officer. He is making $160,000 a year in that post, according to his contract.

Dada hasn't begun receiving his Teachers Retirement System pension, though he is eligible to begin collecting at any time. However, he is contributing toward a new pension at his new job through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. Rather, taxpayers are contributing toward a new pension, per the fine print of the contract. District 112 is picking up his monthly 4.5 percent contribution toward the second pension in addition to the district's share.

The three-year contract also allows him to stockpile up to 10 days of vacation that can be paid out upon his departure from District 112. His sick days may accumulate as well, which could boost his pension payments from IMRF.

Elsewhere in District 54:

Just as school was set to begin again, a reader wanted to learn more about a rumored excursion that the staff of District 54's Aldrin Elementary School in Schaumburg took to Lake Geneva, Wis., over the summer.

In fact, 51 employees of the 62-member staff took part in the outing that occurred July 26, district officials said. Those 51 members were paid a $150 per diem each, or $7,650 in total. It is 114 miles round trip from the school to Lake Geneva. Using the federal mileage reimbursement of 55 cents a mile, that calculates to a cost $63.27 per car. That leaves $86.73 that teachers got to keep.

The district picked up the tab on a $700 lunch at Popeye's restaurant -- a Lake Geneva culinary institution, not the fast-food chicken joint. The district also covered the $1,200 cost of the retreat's purpose, a team-building exercise at the Snake Road Adventure Center that ran from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"The purpose of that was to build team relationships focusing on communication skills to solve problems," said District 54 spokeswoman Terri McHugh.

The trip cost $9,550 in all.

McHugh said the principal at Aldrin had requested the team-building funds because there were several new teachers at the school this year. The money comes from a special fund set up by the district with proceeds taken in by charging teachers from other school districts to attend an annual educational enrichment program called "Professional Learning Communities."

The program instructs teachers how to collaborate with one another, McHugh said. Because many District 54 employees have participated in the program in the past, many seats are open each year and offered at a cost to teachers from other districts. McHugh was unsure how much money was in the PLC fund. She did say the Aldrin staff was the only group that used these funds this summer.

Looking into the lottery:

A few weeks ago there was a hiccup in the processing of lottery checks at claim centers throughout the state. A new system had been put in place by the lottery's private management firm, but an error left many lottery winners unable to claim their cash for a couple of days.

An online comment on the story suggested the Daily Herald "follow the money and see the connection between this new private company and the Democrats in charge."

So we did.

Northstar Lottery Group is the management firm that took over day-to-day operations of the Illinois Lottery this year after winning a 10-year contract. It is a consortium of companies with experience in the lottery industry made up of Rhode Island-based GTECH, Georgia-based Scientific Games and Chicago-based Energy BBDO. Northstar's five-member board of advisers is composed of former Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine, businessman David Gupta, attorney Manny Sanchez, former Springfield Mayor Karen Hasara and former Chicago Public School Board Chairman Rufus Williams.

No campaign contributions were made under Northstar's name.

We examined campaign contributions by the businesses making up the Northstar consortium, as well as personal and professional contributions to politicians made by members of the board going back to the 1990s. That includes donations made by Gupta's System Development Integration and Sanchez's law firm. Contributions from the law office where Devine now works were examined only from 2008 on, after Devine had left office.

In all, $473,553 worth of campaign contributions were made over the past two decades. Former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who once sought to sell the Illinois Lottery, was the largest beneficiary. He received more than $135,000, according to state election board records. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez received $37,420. Former Democratic attorney general candidate John Schmidt received $20,750. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel received $15,000.

And while Democrats clearly received the lion's share of donations from the companies and people associated with Northstar, thousands were donated to Republicans as well. Former Illinois governors Jim Edgar and George Ryan along with current Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, state Rep. Chris Nybo, former DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom, Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso, former Attorney General Jim Ryan, current state Sen. John Millner, former Illinois House Speaker and Republican House leader Lee Daniels, and former Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica were among the Republicans who also received campaign contributions from the group totaling nearly $30,000 just among those names. Another $50,000 was donated to GOP campaign committees, the records show.

Got a tip?

Contact Jake Griffin at jgriffin@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4602.

Follow him at facebook.com/jakegriffin.dailyherald and at twitter.com/DHJakeGriffin.

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