An Education in Double Dipping

Joe Forkan

Who's the Broward teacher who works only about 18 weeks a year and doesn't teach but gets a $48,266 annual salary?

Hint: He gets lots of paid time off because he has other employment at the state capitol doing another job -- which pays him an additional salary, this one on the state's tab. In all, the School Board of Broward County paid him for about 100 days -- or nearly $25,000 -- for not working.

OK, so who is this public servant who's been served such a sweetheart job?

It's a riddle, but the joke may be on the taxpayers.

It's Josephus Eggelletion, the state representative from Lauderdale Lakes. He's now coming off summer vacation and getting back to work as a "task-assigned" teacher at the board's Office of Diversity and Cultural Outreach. There Eggelletion helps develop programs to educate students and teachers about minorities of all stripes, from Haitians to lesbians (and presumably Haitian lesbians). But while he gets paid a full year's salary from the school system, he worked only a paltry 90 days last year. And he didn't have to work all of those 90 days either; he gets several weeks off in vacation and personal leave time, as well.

Making Eggelletion's cushy gig possible is a school board policy that allows employees who double as elected officials to be paid by the board for attending meetings related to their elected position. The policy permitted Eggelletion to spend 21 weeks working as a state representative. So Eggelletion gets two paychecks to do the same work, one from the state, which pays him $27,000 to be a representative, the other from the board.

While he says he doesn't agree that it's a classic case of double dipping, Eggelletion says he knows it reads like he's getting paid twice. His retort is that while he's working at the capitol, he's busy hustling up money for his other employer, the school board. With his seat on the powerful appropriations committee, Eggelletion this year used his influential status in Tallahassee to help bring the board $48 million in state grant money to refurbish crumbling schools in the eastern part of the county.

When Broward was cut out of the $300 million state effort-index program meant to reward enterprising school districts with money, Eggelletion helped convince the chairperson of the House appropriations committee, Kenneth Pruitt, to go along with a new plan that brought Broward back into the fold.

"It's a damn good deal for the school board," Eggelletion says of his dual roles. "If the school board had to pay me for what it got in return, it would have to pay me a lobbyist's salary. There are things the school board can get that it couldn't get unless I was there."

If the school board did pay him a salary for lobbying, Eggelletion could be indicted. It's illegal for a Florida legislator to receive money for lobbying the legislature or any other state office. So, has Eggelletion's school board job simply become a front to allow a well-connected state representative to lobby in Tallahassee for the school board? A look back at school board records shows that the policy, passed in 1993, was in part meant to encourage Eggelletion and any other elected official working for the school board to bring home the bacon from the government.

According to an official school board summary, the policy was needed because board employees holding public office "are in a unique position to further the goals of the school district." The school board quite intentionally decided to pay politicians money for not working with the understanding that it would get political favors by doing so. It sounds very much like hiring a lobbyist. But does all this mean that Eggelletion wouldn't work as hard as a representative to bring the board -- and Broward's children -- state money if he weren't getting the extra pay? Eggelletion says he would work just as hard.

"Look, I didn't ask for the [school board] policy, and I didn't lobby for the policy," he says. "I knew nothing of the policy until it was passed and I was sent a memorandum telling me that I was going to get paid for the days I missed. I'm just doing what the board has me do."

Long before Eggelletion was a politician, he was a teacher, first employed by the board in 1974. It wasn't until 1988 that he became a Lauderhill Lakes councilman. In 1992, he became a state representative, which forced him to take months off from his teacher's job to work in Tallahasseee. He says that during his first year as a teacher/ state representative, he used vacation and personal days he'd accumulated to make up for the months he missed and didn't lose any pay.

Then the policy that outright paid him for the time he was gone and kept his vacation time and personal days intact was unanimously passed. But Eggelletion's dual positions still presented a problem for students, who lost continuity in the classroom. On top of that, the school board had to pay another teacher to fill in for him. So in 1996 he was transferred to the then brand-new diversity office. There he would retain his teacher's status, which kept his summers free. And he wouldn't be missed. At least not by students.

"Certainly we haven't been able to move as fast as we'd like on some things without Joe here full-time," says Dorsey Miller, the school board administrator who oversees the diversity office. "We've had to revise some start dates and some completion dates for some projects. Of course everybody likes to have somebody there every day."

Miller also brings up the $48 million grant to justify Eggelletion's absence. While Eggelletion's role certainly was important in getting the grant, officials say several members of the South Florida delegation also helped make it happen. It was state Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Miami), for instance, who played the role of chief negotiator for the money.

"I sent a thank-you note to Diaz-Balart, not Eggelletion," says school board chairperson Lois Wexler.

Wexler, who voted for the employment policy benefiting Eggelletion, now says she doesn't agree with it. Wexler says the school board would do better to follow the lead of the Broward County Property Appraiser's Office, which employs state Rep. Tracy Stafford. Stafford also has to work several months in Tallahassee, but the appraiser's office doesn't pay him for the 11-week legislative session, and he uses accrued vacation time and personal days to make up for other weeks he needs to be in Tallahassee.

While Wexler may have a good point, Eggelletion counters that she has an ulterior motive for bringing up the issue in the first place. He says Wexler is trying to sack him in a game of political football that began when he drew single-member districts for school board members a couple of years ago (which was a task he did outside both his school board and state rep jobs). Wexler complained publicly that Eggelletion drew her district in an unfair way to try to drum her out of office. Eggelletion and Wexler remain foes today.

Political animosity or not, there is no known plan by Wexler or any other school board member to change the policy as Eggelletion returns to work at the board's K.C. Wright building this school year, which is fine with Eggelletion.

"I think that everybody has a right to earn an income," he says, "and merely because I work in the public sector, it should not diminish my right to earn that income. I will submit to you that I am effective in both those jobs."

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