Audit questions Hammond school labor chief’s pay
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/648-3154 August 18, 2012 11:40PM
Hammond Teacher Union President Patrick O'Rourke proclaims that the unions are one and together in this fight during a labor summit sponsored by the Northwest Federation of Labor to discuss the impacts of the so-called “right to work” legislation under consideration by the Indiana General Assembly at McBride Hall Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, in Gary, Ind. Union workers will travel to the Indiana State capital to make their voices heard against the legislation. | Scott M. Bort~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 20, 2012 10:07AM
HAMMOND — The School Board has moved to terminate a unique provision in its teacher contract that calls for the president of the Hammond Teachers Federation to be paid by the school district.
The move comes in the wake of a critical audit completed by the State Board of Accounts and after the layoffs of nearly 100 teachers.
The district sent a letter July 27 to union president Patrick O’Rourke telling him of the contract change. O’Rourke has 60 days to respond.
“Given the fact we’ve laid off as many teachers as we did, we find it difficult to justify,” the district’s labor relation attorney Dan Friel said of paying O’Rourke.
Friel said the contract provision for the district to continue to pay O’Rourke’s salary has been in place since the 1970s. The contract was based on a 230-day period. “The board felt it worked to our mutual advantage,” Friel said of the arrangement he termed as “perfectly legal.”
Typically, unions pay their leaders’ salaries when they leave the classroom for full-time labor work.
A State Board of Accounts audit released Aug. 9 said based on school district records, it was not clear as to what duties O’Rourke performed for the district and which duties he performed for the teachers union.
State law requires such records be kept, the audit reported.
The audit said although O’Rourke was no longer a teacher, his compensation of $73,412 per school year was based on a regular teacher’s contract.
The audit further cited the provision in the master teacher contract.
It said O’Rourke’s pay would follow his regular teacher’s daily rate of pay multiplied by 230 “in order to be available to meet with the Employer to discuss and deal with matters of mutual concern which may arise, as well as to review the administration of the Contract.”
The audit said O’Rourke did not maintain an office at the administration building or at any other school district-owned building. A 1994 memorandum from district attorney John P. Friel stated O’Rourke’s summer compensation came from the union, not the school district.
The audit, which covered the period of July 1, 2009, to March 15, 2012, cited state law that says: “A person employed by a governmental entity who, knowing that the person has not been assigned any duties to perform for the entity, accepts property from the entity commits ghost employment, a Class D felony.”
Dan Friel disagreed with the ghost employment reference. “I don’t think that’s accurate,” he said. “I don’t think what’s been negotiated is illegal. I’ll be very surprised if we hear anything further.”
Superintendent Walter Watkins said as soon as the board reaches a resolution, it will respond to the State Board of Accounts.
“We’re in the process of trying to plug up holes,” he said.