2 Investigators: Sick, Vacation Payouts Add Up For Former CPS Employees

Send Your Tips To Dave Savini

CHICAGO (CBS) — A crackdown is under way to stop a very expensive — yet legal — perk that has been enjoyed by employees at some city agencies.

CBS 2’s Dave Savini has been investigating the high cost of unused sick and vacation time at Chicago Public Schools (CPS).  And now Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered an immediate halt of this type of payout for non-union employees, and ultimately, he wants the perk eliminated across the board.

Arne Duncan, the former CEO of CPS, was paid $50,296.77 when he left the school system to become President Obama’s secretary of education.

Barbara Eason-Watkins, former chief education officer, walked away with $159,848.54.

Both cashed in unused sick or vacation time — a jackpot for CPS administrators and teachers who quit or retire.

CPS records obtained by the 2 Investigators show a whopping $89 million has been paid out for this perk in the last three years alone. At least 203 employees received payouts of $80,000 or more.

Jitu Brown, a local school council leader, says what CBS 2 uncovered should be spent on crumbling, cash-strapped schools.

“It’s horribly sad, but I’m not surprised,” he says.

At one point, the school he represents, Walter H. Dyett High School, had only seven books in the library and lost five teachers, including the art instructor.

“There were other priorities other than our children’s education,” Brown says. “We thank you for bringing this out.”

Another former CPS employee, Ascencion Juarez, was paid $170,787.71 for his unused time. When asked whether the amount is excessive, he responded, “It’s the system. It’s the policy that was there.”

CBS 2 found there is even a perk to using this perk. Employees are paid for these unused days at their current salary. In the case of Juarez, 219 of his saved sick days were old, from before 1998, during years he was making less than half his final salary.

But those 219 days were paid out based on his final top salary, which was $166,904.76.

Then there is Scott Feaman. The former Lake View High School principal topped everyone with a payout of $211,640.97.

Becky Malone, a Mount Greenwood Elementary parent representative, says the money could help save valuable programs.

The $89 million total could buy more than 140,000 iPads for students and is certainly enough to put paint on the chipping walls at Dyett High School. It also would be enough to pay a full year’s salary for 1,760 new teachers.

Eason-Watkins had 80 unused sick days from her days as a principal, which were paid out at her nearly double administrator’s salary. She did not respond for a request for comment.

All employees could accrue 325 sick days.

Adding to the cost: Some payouts are used to increase final salaries, which then increases the retired employees’ pensions.

bga logo 2 Investigators: Sick, Vacation Payouts Add Up For Former CPS Employees

Better Government Association logo. (Credit: BGA)

The Better Government Association has also been looking into payouts for sick days.

Not all schools have this perk. In fact, Elgin School District U46 and the Indian Prairie School Districts have a “use it or lose it” policy for their employees.

Duncan, asked for a response, said: “People should take a good hard look at whether or not that policy makes any sense and whether it should be kept in place in these tight budget times.”

In response to CBS 2’s investigation, CPS issued a statement: “Per Mayor Emanuel’s directive to all sister agencies, CPS has halted sick day payments to non-union employees and are currently reviewing our sick day policy. Mayor Emanuel made it clear that he finds the current policy unacceptable and CPS is facing difficult fiscal times. It is incumbent upon us to be fiscally conservative with every taxpayer dollar we spend to ensure that every available dollar is being invested in our students.  We expect to present recommendations on our sick day policy on February 17th as the Mayor has requested.”

Mayor Emanuel issued his own statement: “As Mayor, my greatest responsibility is to ensure that Chicago government is transparent, accountable, and responsive to city taxpayers. That is why I have zero tolerance for waste or benefit abuses of any kind.

Since taking office eight months ago, I have aggressively moved to stop and prevent such practices by enacting policies that promote a culture of accountability and fairness, including limiting vacation day carryovers and vacation day payouts; revoking government-issued credit cards after inappropriate use; and implementing the City’s first paid maternity leave policy.

As part of this continuing effort, I have ordered all City of Chicago sister agencies to halt payments to non-union employees for unused sick days effective immediately. Further, I ordered agencies to review all policies and procedures regarding sick days, including method of accrual; compensation to active or separating employees; carryover provisions; and annual costs; and to come up with a plan to permanently terminate all payouts for unused sick time.  Agencies including City Colleges of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Housing received this directive and must submit their initial reviews to me by February 17, 2012.”

More from Dave Savini
  • Reginald

    I’m disgusted by this. I just saw this on the news. Mayor, make these people give that money back. This is disgusting on how Chicago is so corrupt in every way!!!!!

    Get this money back. This was a system that was setup based on corruption!

    • Erin

      Well Mr. Savini perhaps you should go back and do a little more “research” before lumping teachers in with administration and board members.

      If teachers take all their sick days during the school year, then not only do they get paid but a substitute teacher will need to be paid to fill their shoes.
      I don’t think that is going to save and $$$.

      And I’m sure you don’t need to give Emanuel any more ammunition against teachers, but this may come back to bite you when the real loss is not in the $ that you hoped to save but for the children who lose on of days of instruction without their regular teacher.

      • Jim

        So Erin, teachers would take sick days, if they are not sick?

      • Jim

        And Matthew, my spouse works for a large multinational company in a management position. Sick days can are “use it or lose it”. There are no sick day rollovers.

      • Matthew

        Good point Erin!

        This investigation victimizes exactly the teachers and principals that we should be celebrating, those who come in every day and rarely call in sick! Mr. Feaman was a loyal and dedicated principal in CPS. He did wonderful things and Lake View and earned the sick day pay by coming in everyday for a long career in CPS.

        This is not a scam! Many companies roll over sick days from year to year as well. After all, this type of program only rewards dedicated workers. In order to keep strong teachers in education and in CPS we need to give teachers competitive salaries and benefits (unfortunately, teaching salaries are not competitive with the corporate world).

    • Jerry

    • Jerry

  • tom sharp

    Glad you show the hypocrisy and greed goes all the way to Arne Duncan in the Obama Cabinet. Having worked at CPS myself for 30 years without getting any sick day pay, I can tell you that there is even more abuse here than reported. Just one example: check how many sick days the principals and central office big shots actually are charged with using. An amazing number of them are never charged with any days off or at best charged with a handful during their decades of work. No way that is accurate. The clerks who keep the attendance records are often told to look the other way and mark them present for a small bride or threat of dismissal.

  • PJ

    We (Teachers) have earned those Days. Why should’nt we be compensated for them. If we took each of those sick days, (which many retiering teachers used to do before the “Perk” was negotiated in our contract) the board would have to pay us for those days, plus pay for a sub! They are saving money!!! Why is it you people are always Bashing Teachers!! Spend a day in our shoes and see all that we have to deal with. I am not talking about Grading, lesson planning etc. I am talking about helping students deal/cope with abusive families, drugs, sexual abuse and this is just in grammer school! I am sick and tiered of my PROFESSION being put down!!!!!

    • Afro


      How come, if you are a grammar school teacher you can’t spell grammar correctly?

  • Renee

    First I would like to say that this week I had to have a lumpectomy and needed three weeks off without my saved sick days what would I have done. Also when it was stated that the students were not being thought of, that is ludicrous! Why do you think teachers don’t take time off, because they don’t want a sub in for a day. There are good subs but it is not easy to walk into a class and try to take over, usually the day is spent trying to control the behavior of the students. What would be the cost of subs if every teacher used their sick days? Maybe parents should come forward and volunteer to assist the sub when the teacher takes a sick day. I do agree that payment should not be at your current salary but this policy should have been changed before Arne Duncan cashed in!

  • Jean Claude

    Hey PJ,

    “I am talking about helping students deal/cope with abusive families, drugs, sexual abuse and this is just in grammer school! I am sick and tiered of my PROFESSION being put down!!!!!”

    …”grammer” is “grammar”…time to retire…and collect your sick days, buddy! You’re a joke.

    • SLC

      Seriously!!??….Jean Claude, YOUR THE JOKE!!!!

      • Lyndia

        Yes, SLC. Jean Claude is a joke.

      • SLC

        Oh excuse me YOU ARE THE JOKE!!!! or YOU’RE THE JOKE!!! pick one

      • Afro

        And Lyndia is a ni gg er

  • ofcmike

    It’s earned time, think it through before getting outraged. If someone is earning sick time over a 20, 30, 40 year career but not taking sick days (see PJ’s comment) are they to simply lose it when they leave or retire?

    Think before reacting. This is a non-story.

    • da chicago way

      if they saved 30 days in 1989 then they should get paid at the 1989 rate!

    • David

      Sick days and vacation time is a fringe benefit the same as a company car or cell phone. Once you earn it, it’s yours. They should be paying these people for their unused days on a yearly basis the way my employer does. It doesn’t add up over time that way.

      • NWA

        Who care what your employer does. This ain’t about you fool.


  • L

    First people need to recognize that teachers and other non-administrative employees don’t get vacation days.

    The sick days are earned. If I have perfect attendance for 300 years that equals 300 days I have earned. That also means that I was there every day for the students and provide consistency.

    So why should I not get compensated for my days?

    Now, teachers will start taking the days off, more substitutes will be needed (and paid) and the teacher will not be a constant in the students education.

    Before you bash the teachers compare them to firemen who only work approximately 90 days a year, policemen and other city employees who only have to work 20 years to retire with full benefits.

    Chicago teachers have to work 34 years to get full benefits and did not get their contractual raise this year.

    The least you can do is compensate those sick days.

    PS. As for the money, remember CPS just spent 7million dollars to bribe schools/teachers to lengthen the school day. CPS has money for what it wants.

    • pk

      Ditto to what “L” said.
      If CBS wants to find ways to save the Board millions, then they should look into who the vendors of the Board are. Why can’t we purchase a laptop for $500 from Best Buy, or anywhere else there is a sale? Because we have to pay double that amount so someone’s connection can get their political contribution paid back.
      If Mayor Emmanuel will allow it, that’s what you should be investigating!

      • Lyndia

        PK, you are right. The people on the outside, are not aware of the things that go on in these buildings. If they only knew!!!

      • Afro

        Lyndia you and NWA are nothing but a couple of dumb ni gg ers don’t even try to weigh in on this issue.

    • Jim

      L, teachers don’t get vacation days, but the only work 10 months a year, compared to 12 months a year in private industry. And teachers scheduled work days are about 180 days, compared to 240-250 scheduled work days for a typical employee in private industry.

    • Jim

      L, private employees, if they graduate college at 22, work 45 years, to receive full social security benefits at 67 years old. So CPS teachers are retiring 11 years earlier, subsidized in part by private employees, who don’t receive the same benefit.

    • James

      One week at Christmas (the second week is deferred pay) and all of Spring Break are counted as “vacation” days. Don’t say you don’t get vacation days when you actually do.

  • A T

    I guess you are telling me, a dedicated teacher of soon to be 34 years, that I should start using up more of my sick days. Maybe I should have taken more days off after the recent sudden death of my own son, rather than rushing back to be with my kindergarten class. It was a difficult return, holding back tears as I am right now while feeling much unappreciated as a teacher.
    Ample Tears (AT)

  • juju

    Some of you don’t know what the hell you are talking about! This is earned time where some of us started as teachers never taking off, flu, rain, sleet or snow teaching your children, so no CPS didn’t gave us anything it was earned. Get the facts before you started downgrading what retired members get once they leave what they have given some over 35 years plus. So you are going to work at a job and don’t expect to receive what you have placed in the future to make sure you can enjoy what you didn’t do in the pass.

    • Just the Average Joe

      Sick days are not vacation days, or snow days, they are for you to have time off when you are sick. The private sector doesn’t have banked sick days, in fact some places require a doctors note in order to be excused and receive pay. These benefits are not earned, they are the result of a negotiated union contract that doesn’t serve the taxpayer very well. If you need a sick day, take it and get well, but these were never intended to be days paid if you didn’t need them.

  • L

    I hope someone explains to Mr. Brown, the school council rep that the principal had the authority to earmark school monies to buy books for the library. That has nothing to do with teachers sick pay. The budget for repairs has nothing to do with it either.

    There is so much misinformation thrown about to bash the teachers.

    Personally, I think they need to be paid more, more and more for the numerous hours spent creating and grading projects, for the hours spent shopping for supplies, or gloves, or Christmas gifts for those students who won’t get any at home. The need to get paid more to compensate for the many lunches purchased for hungry students, coats and hats for the cold students, personal items for female students. They need to get paid more for the hours spent making home visits to check on sick students, hospital visits and the like.

    I watch my children’s teachers go above and beyond the call of duty and am saddened by these bash the teacher articles.

    Tsk Tsk that this investigative reporter would not be where he is if it had not been for a teacher.

  • Anggel C. Weaver

    It’s really easy to point fingers when your on the outside. I have been a CPS employee for 18 years I recently had an injury that wasn’t work related & had to use some of my banked sick days I find that this story was very one-sided as with almost every story on any network “News” station. Arne Duncan didn’t deserve what he was paid. But the teachers, custodians, engineers, lunchroom people who are actually the blood ,sweat & tears of CPS are deserving. If some over a 25 – 30 year career banks 80-90 sick/vaca days, just shows how dedicated we are!!! Savarini can contact me if he wants!!

  • Centurion

    Unused vacation time? YEA RIGHT! Vacation is not even tracked by CPS. There is no way these idiots have 200 days of unused time. LIES LIES LIES and MORE LIES!

    • Retired with 300 sick days


      There are hundreds of CPS employees who for 20-30 years have not used sick time and have accrued 200-300 days. Those are dedicated employees who came to work regardless of weather, illness, family emergency and more.

      You should salute them not ridicule.

      • NWA

        @Retired with 300 sick days:

        My hat is off for you and your fellow workers.

        Thank you!

      • blueyz

        That’s ridiculous. Nearly a whole year of extra pay? So you don’t need any more raises then if you’ll be getting tens of thousands of additional tax payer dollars, right?

  • Linda

    Once again, the teachers are lumped in with the administrators. If you want to see where all the money is going, look at the administrators. The teachers are the ones that show up and get the job done. There were many days that I questioned why the school was open when the weather was so poor. I understand that schools were kept open so that the children had a safe place to go. This is the thanks you give to the teachers that showed up to work on those days rather than calling in “sick/” I certainly wouldn’t want to be a teacher. It seems every day they are being blamed for one thing or another.

  • righttrack

    Blame it on the teacher’s union. This is a big issue at contract negotiatins time. The exact thing happens with all state (union) employees. I am a firm believer in “use it or lose it”, but it’s never gonna change.

    • NWA

      Then you should keep believing, don’t stop!


  • Just trying to be a good teacher

    Dear CBS:
    Please do some real investigating before flashing such an ill-researched, hateful, and incorrect story. Perhaps you were only doing what Mayor Emmanuel told you to say.

    Several errors:
    1. Teachers don’t get vacation days. We get sick or personal days.
    2. We can only accrue sick days not personal days.
    3. Most teachers use these sick days for real needs, i.e., being sick, own children or spouses are sick, family emergencies or death, or professional development (which for some reason is usually often offered during the school year not the summer).
    4. A new teacher’s starting salary is not $50,568 (“89 million could pay for…1760 new teachers…”). It is less (unless you are counting our “pension” which we (new) teachers will never ever see).
    5. There is NOT a policy in place right now for paid maternity leave. I should know. I am currently on (unpaid) maternity leave. For shame, Mayor Emmanuel, it is wrong to lie.

    But, beyond all of the above misinformation, the point is that we teachers should be allowed to take advantage of days that we earned. And we really earned them. Try it, teach in an urban school. Not so easy. We work really hard. We work very long (unpaid) hours before school, after school, in the evenings at home, and on weekends. We pay for A LOT out of our own pockets. We are often very highly educated (at least a M.Ed). We are professionals and deserve to be treated as such.


    • An informed teacher

      I’m all for truth in advertising and this was a terrible report, but you have several errors in your own response.

      Several errors:

      1. We do get vacation, Winter and Spring Break
      2. We don’t accrue sick, you’re handed sick days in July in a lump sum
      3. So do most other people
      4. True, it’s more like $47,000 with only a Bachelor’s degree, but many teachers come in with either a Master’s degree or years of experience at another district. You can’t assume all “new” CPS teachers are starting at the bottom of the salary band.
      5. If you have sick days banked then you get paid for those sick days while out on maternity leave until they are exhausted.

  • chris

    If it wasnt for banked sick days, I would of had to go back to work after having my kids since we do not get maternity leave. If it wasnt for banked sick days, teachers I know would have to come back to work after their chemo and radiation treatments. If it wasnt for banked sick days a mother would not be able to be at the bed side of her dying 5 year old son. Not many teachers are so lucky to have benefited from this perk that was negotiated in our contract.

    • Doris

      Let me get a tissue.

  • Jeff

    Why does the story not say that the majority of people use all thier sick days each year. For a thirty year employee that would be 360 days in total. Where the minority only takes off when sick. And we know the people using all 360 days are not really sick.

  • Lyndsey

    If it weren’t for those unused sick days I have been saving over the last 6 years and being there for my students every possible day I could, I would not be able to take a paid maternity leave to stay with my first child coming up at the end of this month. I work my butt off day to day helping kids learn and all that keeps happening is we get bashed for something new. I am not saying all teachers are great but the ones that are, that are dedicated and truly there for the students, are irreplaceable and deserve a little respect and credit!

    • Dylan

      This is just another public employee scam. Have your baby in the summer. You only work 8 months out of the year, get raises because of years worked, not skill, tenure, so we keep the lousy teachers, bumps in salary during your final years, retire at 55 while the rest of us hard working TAXPAYERS work till 67, after your 3rd year of retirement, you have spent all the money you put into it and the rest is payed by us TAXPAYERS, you WILL make more in retirement that you did your whole career, and you get to double dip. Ya, you say you work your but off, but open your eyes, everyone works hard. You’re not curing cancer, you’re a teacher. Anyone with a BS can teach. Same goes for the Superintendents. Over paid do nothings. They are even a bigger rip off.

      I could go on and on, but I have to leave and go to a real job.


      • Jim

        Dennis, if you want to take credit for the well written statement by Dylan, take credit for all the children taught by public teachers who can’t write a well written statement. As far as the 8 hour workday, no public school teacher is required to work 8 hours. An 8 hour work day is not in any collective bargaining agreement for a teacher, anywhere. Not a single one. Some teachers put in their own time to work 8 hours. Many do not. Because many teachers have enough free time in the bell schedule to grade their papers at school, and that period between the first and last bell once again is less than 8 hours.

      • Dennis

        Are you serious? First of all most teachers work from mid August through part of June. If you don’t like having to work 12 months than become a teacher. They work 8 hours a day, go home correct papers, record grades do lesson plans respond to e-mails from parents who want to know why the teacher gave Johnny a C. limiting the time they spend with family. What do you mean by double dip? Teachers do not collect SS. Yes everyone works their but off, I have not heard a teache say you don’t, but you want to come down on teachers. You say it’s not curing cancer, but a teacher gave people the tools they need to be able to do so. You alone have put together a well written statement, you can thank a teacher for that.

    • Donna

      Why don’t you do what the rest of us had to do. TAKE A LEAVE OF ABSENCE!!!
      (WITH NO PAY) Bunch of cry babies. Why should you get paid (from taxpayer money) to have a baby?

      • Nasty B

        Are you saying you wouldn’t take advantage of this perk if it was offered to you by your company? Sounds like jealousy.

      • Dominic

        Nasty B you must be a teacher, because you know how to use the words “take advantage,” very well.

  • Chivi

    So many six days for 9 months of teaching???? Are you kidding me??? They do not work all year long!! If teachers would tell you the truth (or would take a lie detector), most of them would tell you that the only reason they teach is for the benefits, all the time off, early retirement and the paycheck. Bottom line I’ve heard many teachers say that they hate dealing with the students and cannot wait to retire. Dance of the lemons!! Lots of lemon juice!!!!

  • Fed EMP.

    Surprising that as former White House Chief of Staff Mayor Emanuel does not understand the concept of accruing leave time. Likely when he resigned he was paid his unused time, and should disclose this. Likely Bill Daley was, and Arne Duncan will upon resigning. As leave is earned it is shown as a liability on balance sheet of governmental entity, current part as short term and older accrual as long term. Didn’t anyone involved here look at the School Board’s Financial Statements, which are on-line ?

  • Sheryl

    The problem is the policy, not the employees. The policy should state that vacation days cannot be rolled over for more than a year or two, that any accrued vacation days will be paid at the rate they were earned, NOT at the employees’ current salaries, and sick days are not paid if they are not taken. The vacation days have been earned – these employees are not taking something to which they are not entitled. Change the policy and the problem will be eliminated. Many, many companies and other governmental agencies have limits on the time vacation days can be carried over, “use it or lose it” policies, and there is no reason CPS cannot have the same policy.

    • blueyz

      TOTALLY AGREE! Our Company policy – get to carry over 5 days ONLY. If you don’t take the vacation and have more than that left, YOU LOSE IT. All we get is 25 days TOTAL for the year, and that is a total bank for sick and vacation days. And working 12 months out of the year. Start at the top, change the policy, no grand-fathered in employees, because WE THE TAXPAYERS are getting sick of funding your retirements when we can’t fund our own.

      • Gale

        And how would you feel if your company suddenly decided to eliminate your benefits that you earned? Also, I have to point out that retirement funds are separate entitites and that employees pay into their pension.

  • sean

    it’s contract time so rahm gave the media its marching orders.the next story will be about how good the firefighters and cops have it,but that wont happen until after the G8/NATO summit.

  • j

    the sick days ARE accrued. they’re given outright at the beginning of the school year, but if you retire or quit during the year, those days will not be paid out. also, teachers who use them and quit are required to re-pay CPS.

  • Gale

    It is unfortunate that there is so much rancor in this discussion. And it is unfortunate that the story is so poorly written. Arnie Duncan’s abuse of the system is lumped in with long term employees who over the course of decades had excellent attendance records resulting in their accruing unused sick days.

    The problem is with the contract. It should not have allowed the massive accrual of sick days. I am the wife of a teacher with almost 20 years teaching at CPS. He has taken less than 5 sick days during his employment, working even on the day our son was born, because he is dedicated to his craft and to his students.

    The appropriate course of action would be to limit the number of sick days that an employee can accrue. But this is something to be done fairly, during a contract negotiation, rather than just violating the promise to one’s employees.

    You think that $89 million dollars paid out largely to employees who earned the benefits legitimately is the big problem at CPS? Then you are sadly uninformed. Look at the millions and millions of taxpayer dollars spent every year on repetitive testing. Look at the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on consultants. Look at the millions of taxpayer dollars devoted to supporting for-profit charter schools that are open to only a select few. Look at the millions of taxpayer dollars spent each year on vendors in a process with is not transparent. Look at the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Michael Scott (ex-board of ed president) embezzeled from CPS for his own pleasures.

    The real issue here is that the Chicago Board of Education is not serving the needs of the students and parents. Chicago is one of the very few school districts which has a school board which is 100% appointed by the mayor. The board does not have to answer to parents or the community. Perhaps it is time to have an elected school board that has to answer to the citizens. Election processes have a way of making issues come to light, and the process becomes more transparent.

    Let’s stop arguing and accusing each other, and target the real problem. The lack of transparency at the Board of Education and the fact that it is a puppet regime of the mayor.

    • NWA

      Yeah, let’s stop accusing. So why did you accuse Arnie Duncan of abuse?


  • Nicole

    Decide what is more important-teachers who are in the classroom each day to teach your children, or teachers taking their earned sick days each year to avoid a huge payout when they retire.
    You cannot tell people that they accrued sick days but cannot be paid for them. That wouldn’t go over well in any profession.
    This is the least of CPS’s money issues. Why not look at what CPS is really wasting their money on.

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