Dennis “Coach” Snyder, head of a group supporting the Escondido charter schools he founded, can continue to collect $104,500 a year for his nonprofit work plus a six-figure public pension.
“We looked into the matter,” said a CalSTRS spokesman. “After a review of Mr. Snyder’s retirement eligibility, CalSTRS staff has not found any evidence that Mr. Snyder engaged in activities inconsistent with the requirements in the Teachers’ Retirement Law.”
Michael Sicilia, the spokesman, contacted Times of San Diego last week — three months after local progressive newspaper publisher Nina Deerfield publicly accused Snyder of unethical “double-dipping.”
Snyder, who retired eight years ago as executive director of the public Escondido Charter High School, collects an annual pension of $118,700 in addition to his pay as president of the American Heritage Education Foundation.
Informed by a reporter of Sacramento’s verdict, Snyder said: “It was good to see the confirmation that I expected from CalSTRS. It’s unfortunate that some people take delight in disparaging others. As you realize, jealousy is an unfortunate part of life and it can cause people to obsess on negative things. This is certainly an example of that.”
Deerfield and Alianza North County associate Rebecca Nutile called the CalSTRS verdict “troubling.”
Nutile filed the original challenge to Snyder’s pension status in July 2014.
“Perhaps CalSTRS needs to look into closing this particular loophole as it has opened the door for other operators to do the same — collect a full pension and simply move the salary source from the school to a related organization instead of actually leaving their position or working for the school at a salary below the supposed CalSTRS cap [of $40,173].”
The pair noted that other administrators in the San Diego County public pension system have been penalized in similar situations.
“The primary difference seems to be that they were involved in the real public schools, not the nebulous world of privatized charter schools,” the pair said. “When public school employees retire from the school system, they are required to actually retire and make room for someone else — or work in the school system at a salary at or below the CalSTRS salary cap.”
In a July 2014 letter to county schools Superintendent Randolph Ward, Nutile said tax documents show Snyder “shifting his salary” from Escondido Charter High School to “the funding organization” American Heritage Education Foundation.Over the weekend, Deerfield and Nutile said: “Something [is] fundamentally wrong with the way charter schools are allowed to operate in the state of California.”
Snyder’s pension is based on his final annual salary — $110,928.96 — and his 42 years as a public-school educator (including decades as a football coach) plus a maximum longevity bonus of $400 per month for working more than 30 years.
The 73-year-old has received seven cost-of-living hikes since his 2007 retirement, a CalSTRS spokesman said in late May.
Snyder, once named San Diego County Football Coach of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, coached at Escondido schools from 1966 to 1993. He founded his first charter campus, the high school, in 1996. Heritage K-8 Charter School and Heritage Digital Academy followed.
For his part, Synder says his focus has not changed.
“It remains on providing and supporting top-notch educational choices for our parents and students at our American Heritage Charter Schools through fund-raising efforts,” he said Monday.
“In my opinion, the more ‘educational choices’ that parents and students have – the better!”
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