James Hammond, the superintendent of the Ontario-Montclair School District, receives compensation of more than $600,000 a year “through a series of opaque perks, including one that allows him to cash out a generous complement of sick time,” the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported November 14.
Hammond, the highest-paid K-12 administrator in the state – and possibly the world – for three years in a row, received 85 days of leave this year, and that number will continue to increase by five days every year.
“Hammond will only have to show up for 232 days this year, but he will collect his daily rate of $1,523 for 355 days total,” the Press-Enterprise reported. “If he sticks around until 2024, his ever-increasing amount of sick time will allow him to get paid for more days than there are in a calendar year.”
On top of his base salary of $320,000, medical benefits, and pension benefits, Hammond exchanged 110 days of leave for $167,596 in extra pay in July. Last year, he cashed out 100 of the 105 days he accrued, and received $152,360 in extra pay as a result.
The school district in western San Bernardino County enrolls approximately 19,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, in 32 elementary and middle schools. The median household income in the area was $65,046 as of 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“In 2019, Hammond’s $561,748 salary was more than double the state average for superintendents of similarly sized school districts,” the Press-Enterprise reported. “Even when stacked up against the outliers, Hammond’s wages often surpass the next highest paid school superintendent by at least $150,000, according to a comparison of Hammond’s pay against those reported to public pay databases.”
Among Hammond’s perks: 85 days of sick leave and 25 vacation days that can be cashed out every year; up to $2,500 per month for a life insurance policy; $134,714 in retirement-related contributions from the district in 2020; lifetime health benefits for him, his spouse and his children, with all premiums paid by the district; annual cost-of-living increases, or, if he waives such an increase, the percentage raise given to any other employee group that year; 12 months of severance pay for any termination unless he is fired for “major malfeasance”; a guaranteed 10 additional paid days of work, worth roughly $15,000, for going beyond his 222-day work year; and full reimbursement for Medicare tax contributions. Hammond started his career in the district with 145 days of leave transferred from his previous employer.
The newspaper additionally noted that the district paid $331,000 for a condominium that Hammond purchased in the district, “including a $100,000 loan that was forgiven in 2018 without him making a single payment.” He later sold the property financed by the district for $389,000.
“A contract provision added in 2011 gives Hammond 30 days of sick leave plus an additional five days for every year of employment,” the Press-Enterprise noted. “The lack of a cap allowed the superintendent to accrue 85 days of sick leave this year alone. When combined with his additional 25 days of vacation, Hammond’s 110 days of annual leave is just shy of half his 222-day work year. A superintendent who works less than 190 days is considered part-time by state law, but the state doesn’t calculate sick leave against an employee’s work year, as it does with vacation. … The ever-increasing hoard of sick leave became immensely more valuable through a contract amendment in 2015 that allows Hammond to cash out the annual accruals at the beginning of each school year.”
At the end of his employment, Hammond can cash out any unused vacation time and up to two years of sick leave at what will likely be a higher daily pay rate. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System converts any remaining unused sick leave above 12 days per year into additional service credits upon retirement.