We have a new special report in our investigation of the super-sized salaries of school administrators.
After FOX 32 and "Open The Books" blew the lid off an over-sized superintendent salary in Calumet City, we headed down to Ford Heights, one of the poorest suburbs in the United States.
As Dane Placko reports, the superintendent there has one of the biggest school contracts in the state.
Perhaps it isn't fair to open a story about Ford Heights with a picture of tires dumped in front of one of the village's many abandoned buildings. But who said life in Ford Heights is fair?
Residents like Teresa Hicks pay eye-popping property tax rates on homes that continue to lose value.
"I think they should be lower because it's a low income residential area, a lot of the people are low income. The senior citizens can't afford to pay their bills,” Hicks said.
A big reason those bills are so high is Ford Heights School District 169 -- a little more than 400 students and $20-million-dollars in long-term debt.
The district spends more than $25-thousand-dollars a year to educate each student -- double the statewide average.
Which brings us to Ford Heights school superintendent Gregory Jackson. Despite the tiny size of the district, Jackson gets a supersized salary -- $258-thousand-dollars a year.
But that's just the start.
FOX 32 and Open The Books examined Jackson’s contract and found he also gets a pension pickup, medical insurance, life and disability insurance, annuity and car allowance -- bringing his total annual compensation to more than $363-thousand-dollars a year.
Jackson also gets 72 paid time-off days per year, including an astonishing nine weeks of vacation which he is allowed to roll over and cash out when his contract expires in five years.
"Just think of what that could purchase for education in Ford Heights. A couple of teachers, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of enhanced learning in the classroom,” said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and Founder of OpenTheBooks.com.
A statement from the district's law firm says during Jackson’s tenure, test scores have improved dramatically: "...in order to attract the best talent we must offer an attractive compensation package even with us being one of the poorest communities in Illinois and the country."
"I grew up in Ford Heights. That school district was my school district. My only goal was to save the school district,” said State Rep. Thaddeus Jones.
A couple years ago, Jones introduced a bill that would consolidate the Ford Heights schools into the neighboring, larger Chicago Heights school district.
"I thought it would be a good idea to bring transparency to the District. The District was 25-million dollars in debt. They had a range of issues and the goal was to save the school district,” Jones said.
So how did the school board react? By adding language to Jackson’s contract guaranteeing he would get every penny of its $1.8-million-dollar value if the district were consolidated.
The bill went nowhere, and reform remains on hold in Ford Heights.
Dr. Jackson declined to talk about his salary. He has banked more than 500 paid days off since he started 13 years ago, which are currently worth nearly $500-thousand-dollars.