A former Riverhead School District administrator — who was among the state’s highest paid public school employees in 2013-14, despite having worked from home that year — is seeking an additional $27,000 per year from the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, according to court documents.
Longtime assistant superintendent Joseph Ogeka of Quogue, 57, is claiming that the final year of his employment — during which he worked from home after a June 2013 retirement agreement with the district — should be factored into his monthly pension payments, according to an Article 78 he filed in New York State Supreme Court, Albany County. STRS had determined in May that, according to state law, his earnings for the 2013-14 school year cannot be counted toward his retirement benefits because that money constituted termination pay and not compensation for “services rendered.”
“Monies paid in exchange for a member’s resignation do not constitute pensionable ‘compensation’ as defined by statute,” an STRS attorney wrote to Mr. Ogeka in a final determination letter obtained by the News-Review under Freedom of Information laws. “It is well-settled in case law that payments made to an employee in consideration of a resignation, as distinguished from compensation earned for services, is not includable in calculation of final average salary.”
STRS first notified Mr. Ogeka in January 2015 that it had overpaid him by nearly $14,000 in his first six months of retirement because his monthly pension payments had included compensation based on his 2013-14 salary. In February, his monthly pension payment was reduced from $8,800 to about $6,500, according to a letter to Mr. Ogeka from the STRS benefits department. The system also notified Mr. Ogeka that it could seek to recover the overpaid benefits following a final determination.
In August, three months after the state made that final determination, Mr. Ogeka filed the Article 78 challenging the STRS ruling. He maintained that his $183,632 base salary and the year of service time he accrued that school year should count toward his retirement. The number of years an employee works for a district is a factor in determining pension payments.
“During the 2013-14 school year, [Mr. Ogeka] performed his usual and customary job duties, including overseeing regular school business matters, overseeing the athletic department, overseeing student discipline and suspension hearings, as well as working with the superintendent on business matters consistent with the job duties he had performed in the previous years of his employment with the district,” the Article 78 reads.
However, based on documentation provided by the school district, STRS had determined that Mr. Ogeka had reported by telephone that school year and that his only responsibilities had been to advise the superintendent.
The June 2013 agreement between Mr. Ogeka and the Riverhead school district stated that since the district wished to abolish his position and he was considering retirement, Mr. Ogeka was to be paid his full salary as a “retirement incentive” for one year, during which time he was to assist the district in the restructuring.
Mr. Ogeka, who was first hired by the district as an assistant to the superintendent in 1999, was the state’s highest paid public school employee outside New York City in 2013-14, according to a report from the Empire Center for Public Policy, an independent nonprofit in Albany. He earned more than $375,000 that school year, including accrued sick and vacation pay, according to the report.
An attorney with the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System declined to comment on the matter, and an attorney with Mr. Ogeka did not respond to a request for comment this week.
Caption: Riverhead School Board member Ann Cotten Degrasse hands a plaque to Mr. Ogeka upon his retirement. (Credit: Tim Gannon)