The superintendent of Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School is seeking a raise after discovering that the $20,400 annual housing benefit he receives for living on its Lexington campus cannot be counted toward his pension.
Superintendent Ed Bouquillon earns an annual salary of $152,770 and receives a $6,000 annuity, as well as a housing perk valued at $20,400 annually, according to his contract. Bouquillon said the cost of his entire compensation package puts him in line with other vocational school superintendents.
He said that when he agreed to his January 2009 contract, he thought the entire amount would be used to determine his retirement pay. “At the time it was an acceptable practice,” he said. “I thought it was pensionable.”
But the state Legislature adopted new rules in 2009 as part of an effort to curb pension abuse. Under the new law, public employees can no longer count housing, insurance payments, and other allowances toward their retirement calculation. The changes take final effect on June 30.
Bouquillon and Minuteman’s School Committee have been in discussions in recent weeks about boosting his base salary so that it incorporates the housing benefit and annuity (about $27,000), some board members said.
Bouquillon said he has not decided whether he wants to remain in the house on Mill Street, and has not determined the amount of rent he would pay should he decide to stay.
Jeffrey Stulin, Needham’s representative on the Minuteman School Committee, declined to speak in detail about the contract, saying that it is still under negotiation. But he said having a superintendent living on campus has made him feel the school is secure.
“Whether that is a valuable thing you want to offer the superintendent, that’s a decision for the School Committee,” Stulin said. “It’s complicated, when you look at something that is not just pure cash.”
But David Manjarrez, who represents Sudbury on the School Committee, said Bouquillon is adequately compensated, and he does not think the district should give the superintendent a raise to make up for the pension loss.
“The superintendent is handsomely paid,” Manjarrez said, “especially when you take into account the $20,000 supplement he’s getting for the house.”
Minuteman, on Marrett Road in Lexington, draws students from 16 member communities: Acton, Arlington, Belmont, Bolton, Boxborough, Concord, Carlisle, Dover, Lancaster, Lexington, Lincoln, Needham, Stow, Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston. One representative from each town sits on the School Committee, which votes on the superintendent’s contract. His current three-year contract is in place until June 30, 2013, although the superintendent and School Committee can begin negotiating for a new deal 15 months before the expiration date.
Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said a housing allowance for superintendents is rare, but some superintendents have received payments to life or disability insurance policies as part of their contracts.
And in the past few years, many have renegotiated their contracts to take those benefits as a salary, so that the funds could count toward their retirement calculations, Scott said.
On average, the additional benefits amount to about $15,000, he said.
“What happened for many years is school committees were open to looking at benefit packages,” Scott said. “They viewed it as something that was common, and a way to boost the package so they could draw the superintendent they wanted to hire.”
When the Minuteman School Committee hired Bouquillon in 2007, he received an annual $3,600 housing allowance and a salary of $144,000. At the time, Bouquillon lived in Western Massachusetts, and the allowance was a way to help him establish residence near the 650-student high school, according to his contract.
In 2009, the School Committee agreed to let him live in one of the three buildings on Mill Street that Minuteman owns. Rent on the house was appraised at $2,700 a month; however, Bouquillon only had to pay $1,000 a month, while also paying utility costs.
The house was built in the late 1980s by students at the vocational school as a learning project.
It was designed as an energy-efficient building, according to school officials.
The school had rented it out initially, but the house had not been occupied for several years and had fallen into disrepair by the time Bouquillon arrived at Minutemen.
According to Bouquillon, Minuteman spent about $100,000 renovating the house before he moved in.
“It was not livable,” Stulin said of the house.
Minuteman offered Bouquillon the housing incentive to make the job more attractive, Stulin said.
“It’s very hard to find quality superintendents,” he said. “And harder to find quality superintendents for technical schools.”
But a housing benefit is unusual for vocational schools, said Erika Glaster, the deputy executive director of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System. Typically, only county agricultural schools provide housing, because their administrator has to tend farm animals and land, Glaster said.
Bouquillon’s situation is further complicated because he received pension credit for his housing benefit for only one of the three years he has lived at Minuteman.
Bouquillon said he thought he had been grandfathered under the law, since the Legislature allowed employees who received annuities and other allowances in May 2009 to count them as regular pay for pension calculations until the end of this month.
But Glaster said that was only if an employee’s contract was not renewed before June 2012. Bouquillon extended his contract in 2010.
Alice DeLuca, the Minuteman School Committee’s chairwoman, who is from Stow, said the district is trying to follow guidelines and treat its employees fairly.
“The School Committee is attempting to negotiate a fair contract with our employee, the superintendent,” DeLuca said. “We’re trying to do the right thing here.”