Since the former superintendent of Lincoln-Way High School District 210 retired in 2013, his annual pension, currently north of $321,000, has ranked among the top teacher pensions in Illinois.
But after a federal grand jury this week indicted Lawrence Wyllie on fraud charges stemming from his tenure leading the south suburban school district, he stands to lose that pension distinction —and income — if convicted.
Felony convictions for crimes related to a person’s work as a school official qualify for pension forfeiture and Wyllie’s case would qualify if convicted, Teachers’ Retirement System spokesman Dave Urbanek said Friday. Wyllie’s current annual pension is $321,443.52.
Federal prosecutors this week alleged Wyllie, 79, hid the “true financial health” of Lincoln-Way High School District 210 by misusing millions in bond money and fraudulently spent school district funds on personal projects, including Superdog, a dog-training school he ordered built.
Wyllie also pocketed more than $30,000 in unused vacation days and a retirement bonus he wasn’t entitled to, prosecutors charged.
The charges against Wyllie marked the latest turn in a long winding saga at the financially troubled school district and follows a yearlong investigation by the Daily Southtown, a Tribune sister paper, that exposed questionable fiscal practices at Lincoln-Way, private uses of public resources and deals benefiting insiders, including Superdog.
In large part due to decisions made under Wyllie, the district’s finances atrophied over the last decade and the school district’s leaders in 2015 made a controversial decision to shutter Lincoln-Way North, a school opened in August 2008.
Wyllie’s attorneys did not respond to a message seeking comment on his pension. His attorneys on Thursday released a statement maintaining his innocence.
As Lincoln-Way superintendent, Wyllie never cracked $300,000 in salary a year.
But the former superintendent’s pension is bigger than any of his annual salaries because it’s derived through an obscure actuarial calculation that boosted his pension higher than the payment he would’ve received under the standard formula. That actuarial calculation has been eliminated for newer members of the Teachers’ Retirement System.
Wyllie’s initial pension was $289,860, according to the state.
As superintendent, Wyllie’s highest gross earnings reached $276,307 during his last year — $13,000 less than his initial pension.
From 2011-2012, Wyllie grossed $264,970. From 2010-2011, Wyllie grossed a little more than $252,000. And he made the same amount his preceding year, state and school district records show.
Most years, Wyllie’s gross earnings included base salary, an administrative stipend, and other perks.
Urbanek, the TRS spokesman, explained the process last year and said most teachers’ retirement pensions are generated through a standard formula.
But, Urbanek said, TRS does two calculations on pensions: an actuarial assessment that he described as “something that’s (not) easily understood” and a standard formula used for most.
No one who entered TRS on or after July 1, 2005 is eligible for the actuarial calculation, Urbanek said.
To perform the calculation, TRS determines what the retiree’s total retirement contributions were. Then, the agency multiplies the total retirement contributions by 2.4 percent. Next it divides that figure by a “previously-formulated numerical factor from a standard table of factors that is based on the member’s age on their retirement date,” Urbanek said.
Those factors reflect, based on age, how much longer that person is expected to live, on average, Urbanek said. The result of that calculation is the monthly actuarial benefit amount, Urbanek said.
“The resulting monthly benefit from the actuarial calculation many times is based on the assumption that TRS will be paying a higher benefit to the member than the benefit calculated under the standard formula, but it is likely that the member will not live as long as a typical member because of advanced age,” Urbanek said.
There were two reasons why the actuarial formula created a pension “that exceeded (Wyllie’s) highest salary,” Urbanek said.
Wyllie had more than five decades of service with TRS, which is about double what the average time a typical TRS retiree accumulates with the system, Urbanek said. He also retired in his 70s, while the average age last year for all TRS retirees was 59.
The actuarial formula determines a pension that provides the “actuarially equivalent value of the member’s accumulated contributions to TRS,” Urbanek said.
TRS officials wouldn’t say what Wyllie’s pension would’ve been under the standard formula, but said the actuarial formula calculated a higher figure that TRS was bound to use.