It is difficult not to be disappointed by the public officials — elected, appointed and otherwise — who are playing hot potato with a $375,000 pension obligation to the retirees of the Essex Agricultural and Technical High School.
Essex Aggie, of course, ceased to exist in June of this year, having been essentially merged with the North Shore Technical High School into the new, improved Essex Technical High School. While the gleaming, state-of-the-art school off Route 62 has been praised by students and parents alike, not everything about the merger has gone smoothly.
Officials for the Essex Regional Retirement System say officials from the new school have stuck them with the bill for Essex Aggie’s pension obligations.
Charles Kostro, the retirement system’s executive director, told reporter Paul Leighton last week that the agency sent its fiscal year 2015 bill to Essex Aggie on May 19 (the school closed in June). Officials there passed it on to the new Essex Tech.
Essex Tech, in turn, washed its hands of the issue on the grounds that the new school doesn’t belong to the retirement system.
“Why would we pay a bill if we don’t belong?” asked Essex Tech Superintendent Dan O’Connell.
Here’s an answer: Because the school has an obligation to its retirees. Imagine two corporations telling vendors they won’t pay old bills because they are a new company.
As things stand now, the regional retirement system, which has 46 members that include 19 towns and five schools in Essex County, is on the hook for the $375,000.
“We do not think it fair,” Kostro said.
We agree. State pension officials say legislation will be needed to correct the problem. So far, no one is agreeing to take on responsibility for the retiree obligations.
“Hopefully, we can all reach a consensus,” said state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, one of the key supporters of the merged school.
We hope so, too. The new school was more than a decade in the making. It would be discouraging to think it would be difficult to solve a problem that shouldn’t have cropped up in the first place.