John Mackiel will have to wait five more years before he makes his second $1 million as the retired superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools.
Mackiel, 62, will get $200,000 annually for as long as he lives from a pension he and the district have paid into throughout his 40-year career with OPS, the last 15 as superintendent.
If Mackiel lives until the age of 75, from his pension alone he will get $2.6 million. That's on top of the $1 million lump-sum check he will soon receive.
He also will be able to draw from an annuity that the district has funded — and will continue to fund for the next five years.
OPS paid $49,000 annually into that additional retirement benefit for at least the past two years, and it will add $198,768 more to the annuity over the next 60 months.
The World-Herald made requests Monday and Tuesday for the full amount that has been paid into Mackiel's annuity since it began — apparently in 2004 — but OPS has been unable to provide that. A World-Herald article in 2007 said that year's annuity payment was $28,000.
All that is in addition to the $65,000 Mackiel gets for the four-year contract he recently signed to teach in the College of Educational Administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
No other superintendents in the metro area appear to have a large lump-sum retirement payout in their contract like Mackiel had.
Keith Lutz, superintendent of the Millard Public Schools, called Mackiel's payout a “golden parachute.”
“The Philadelphia superintendent got bought out at $900,000, so it's not unheard of at large urban districts, but in the Midwest, this would certainly be a record, I think.”
Mackiel defended the payout Tuesday, saying it should be seen in the context of the job's responsibilities.
OPS is one of the largest organizations in the state, Mackiel said, with more than 7,000 employees, about 50,000 students and a general fund budget of about $475 million.
“When you put it in the context of the day-to-day operations and responsibilities, the board of ed did what they believed was right, as do boards of ed around the country,” Mackiel said in a phone interview.
The Omaha school board was briefed Monday on the $1,011,068.90 check Mackiel will get soon.
Federal law states that under traditional retirement plans, employees can't accrue salary-based benefits beyond a pay level of $250,000.
But in 2004, when Mackiel was 55, the board set up a separate retirement benefit that made him eligible for extra money based on his full compensation.
The amount of Mackiel's lump-sum check caught OPS off-guard, though, despite Mackiel announcing more than a year ago that he would retire.
OPS had set aside $200,000 but hadn't calculated the entire amount of Mackiel's supplemental payment until recently.
To cover the rest of the payout, OPS moved $600,000 out of a contingency fund and another $200,000 out of the board's budget for purchased services.
Mackiel will get $924,875.97 from the lump-sum retirement benefit — a one-time payout of the monthly benefits Mackiel would have received over 84 months.
The rest of his check comes from OPS buying back 19.5 unused vacation days — $18,368.93 — and 144 unused personal and sick days — $67,824.
“It's just good financial planning on his part that he could convince his board to do that,” Lutz said. “I'm sure my wife will give me grief that I wasn't far-sighted enough to try to figure out something like that. That's not why I went into the business.”
Upon retirement, Lutz can draw from a tax-sheltered annuity, use his pension money as well as get paid for unused vacation and sick time.
Lincoln Superintendent Steve Joel will be able to cash out unused vacation and sick days, along with tapping into his pension.
Papillion-La Vista Superintendent Rick Black will get his pension and could qualify for a voluntary separation payment but won't get a district-funded annuity or other funding, a district spokeswoman said.
And Bellevue Superintendent Frank Harwood's contract also includes no annuity or other special retirement funds.
OPS board member Shirley Tyree stood by Mackiel's payment.
“I think it was very well spent,” she said. “I feel we had the best superintendent in the state, and, probably, he could compete with anyone in the country.”
Board member Justin Wayne said he had thought the dollar figure would be high — around $1 million. He said everyone in OPS bears responsibility for the payment sneaking up on officials.
Wayne said: “What I was shocked about was the lack of preparation or the lack of budgeting.”
World-Herald staff writer Paul Goodsell contributed to this report.
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