IT'S called "double dipping" when a public official or employee collects both a current salary and a pension and other benefits from a previous public-sector job. The practice can be richly rewarding for the recipients, but it's a big drain on Ohio's overstressed public-pension funds. It needs to end.
A special report this week in The Blade and other Ohio newspapers reveals that more than one-fourth of the state's public schools superintendents, and half of the heads of regional educational-service centers, are double-dippers. Superintendents routinely "retire" at relatively young ages and immediately accept new jobs or even go back to their old ones with higher income and benefits.
Such efforts to game the system are wrong. They make a mockery of the purpose of a pension: to provide a source of income security once a career ends. They absorb dollars that ought to go to classroom instruction. And they confer an unwarranted sense of entitlement at a time when many school districts are laying off teachers or limiting their benefits.
Premature cash-ins also jeopardize the solvency of the state's already fragile public-pension funds. In all, pension payouts to state and local double-dippers cost more than $1 billion last year.
State lawmakers can start to close what is likely to be a mammoth gap in the next biennial budget by prohibiting double-dipping. And while they're at it, they can revisit the laws that unjustly prevent taxpayers from finding out how state pension systems are spending public money.
School boards and superintendents justify double-dipping by arguing that the pool of qualified candidates to run districts is small. That scarcity is based on a largely artificial credentialing and licensing process.
When school systems look for superintendents, they often round up the usual suspects instead of considering nontraditional candidates who lack educational pedigrees but are talented leaders and administrators. Only belatedly has the Toledo Public Schools broadened its superintendent search to include nontraditional candidates, and only in a limited fashion.
School officials also tell local taxpayers that hiring a double-dipper saves them money. But such illusory savings are achieved only by shifting much of the cost to pension funds that also are subsidized by taxpayers.
One reason double-dipping flourishes, among superintendents and other public employees, is that it's so hard to track.
Ohio taxpayers contribute $4 billion a year to public-pension funds, but state law prohibits them from discovering what individual public employees contributed to and are getting from retirement accounts.
Such secrecy prevents the kinds of efforts other states have made to detect abuse and errors and to identify excessive spending in the pension system. It hardly creates a climate for the types of reforms that many elected officials, pension-board members, and other advocates are demanding.
Ohio's public-pension funds seek hundreds of millions of dollars a year in increased tax support to maintain their long-term solvency. The elimination of double-dipping and a mandate for greater public transparency of the funds need to be among the conditions of any such aid.