Phil Sobocinski's ability to report to work as Warren Township High School's superintendent and not use 200 sick days that were part of his final three-year contract came at a direct cost to local taxpayers.
Sobocinski's untapped sick-leave time that was converted into a cash credit when he retired last year resulted in a state agency billing more than $52,000 to Gurnee-based Warren Township High School District 121 for extra pension costs, according to documents obtained through a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request.
Warren wasn't the only district to receive a bill for the "excess sick leave" reward from the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois. Agency spokesman Dave Urbanek said at least 431 such bills have been sent to schools statewide since Jan. 1, 2012, with an average tab of $3,340.
Urbanek said the $52,420 bill sent last August to Warren for Sobocinski's sick-leave credit was the highest for the state in 2012.
State law makes local school districts pay extra pension costs for end-of-career raises topping 6 percent. Sobocinski's contract called for 6 percent annual pay hikes over his final three years before he departed July 1, 2012, but the Teachers' Retirement System found the cash credit for the unused sick leave approved by Warren's school board took him over the threshold and resulted in the charge to the district.
"In doing that, school boards know there are consequences, and those consequences are monetary," Urbanek said.
District 121's board approved the three-year contract for Sobocinski in January 2009. It included the 200 sick days on top of four he had remaining from a previous deal, along with a $500 monthly travel allowance, 20 days of yearly vacation and a $10,000 bonus if he stayed until his retirement date and then obtained medical insurance elsewhere.
Board President John Anderson said elected officials knew all along that Warren eventually would pay if Sobocinski's sick time went unused, rather than the state covering that credit for his pension. Anderson said he stands behind the deal for a superintendent who proved his worth in many ways, such as obtaining an $11 million construction grant from the state.
"We did what we thought was best for the students, district and taxpayers," Anderson said in a statement to the Daily Herald. "It is always a delicate balance. Dr. Sobocinski did a lot of great things for Warren, and we wanted to make sure he would stay."
Former Warren board member Richard Conley was the lone vote against Sobocinski's contract in 2009. Conley said he questioned the idea a retirement-age Sobocinski would leave for another job and that he was most troubled by the 200 extra sick days in the contract.
"Most board members don't understand the problem with their largesse," said Conley, who couldn't recall being told the contract could result in the state's Teachers' Retirement System sending a bill to Warren.
Sobocinski left as superintendent of the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District in Wisconsin to become Warren's top administrator in 2003. Documents show his annual Illinois pension is $58,309, on top of what he's receiving from Wisconsin.
TRS documents show his reported salary was $245,000 when he retired from Warren last July. Sobocinski received a $150,000 base salary when he started at District 121 in 2003.