Former school Supt. got lucrative benefits after being suspended, then reinstated

Okaloosa County School District. Photo, district website.

Former Okaloosa school superintendent Mary Beth Jackson – suspended, then reinstated by Gov. Ron DeSantis – was able to get lucrative educator retirement benefits, starting with a recent, lump sum payout of $200,721.12, according to state officials.

Now that she’s retired, she can also collect her regular monthly benefit. Jackson, a twice-elected Panhandle superintendent, began getting that benefit in August, and the monthly amount was $5,582.36, according to retirement information from the Florida Department of Management Services.

“Okaloosa County School Board is a participating member of the Florida Retirement System and Mary Beth Jackson is retired,” said DMS spokesman David Frady.

While she’s entitled to those benefits after decades of service, Jackson’s case could have turned out differently, depending on the circumstances.  For example, it’s possible that public officers convicted of certain offenses can forfeit their pensions, according to state law.

But Jackson had been a subject in two grand jury investigations in 2018 in connection with incidents in the district. Neither of the grand juries led to criminal charges.

Three days after his inauguration in January, DeSantis issued an executive order suspending a Panhandle school superintendent over alleged “neglect of duty and incompetence.”

The incidents involved a teacher accused of inappropriate physical conduct with special needs students that led to charges of child abuse. Other district employees were charged with failure to report suspected child abuse, according to the governor’s executive order of suspension.

Six months later, after court fights, Senate hearings, school board concerns and community strife, DeSantis reinstated Jackson, paving the way for her to resign — which has myriad benefits, including her pension.

Jackson’s lump sum payout was part of what’s called the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), a voluntary program that allows employees to stay working for a period while retirement benefits are held in a trust fund.  Ultimately, the pot of money can be distributed by a lump sum payment, a rollover, or a combination of the two.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

1 COMMENT

  1. Which image would you rather report on: An old lady with no pension or means of self support other than social security, eking her way through what remains of her life, probably on public support; Or an old lady found guilty of nothing drawing the savings and pension she earned?
    This is a gigantic nothing burger!

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