Education Secretary Got $50,000 Payday from Chicago Schools

By Matt Cover | February 6, 2012 | 4:21 PM EST

Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke briefly in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 24, 2011 to federal workers who are spearheading efforts to raise funds for charitable causes through the Combined Federal Campaign. ( Starr)

( When he left the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to take the reigns of the Education Department for President Obama, Arne Duncan cashed in his unused sick and vacation days for a $50,297 payday, a report from Illinois-based watchdog Better Government Association finds.

Duncan, who was Chicago Public Schools CEO for nine years before heading to Washington, D.C., took advantage of a CPS perk that has cost the system $265 million since 2006, the BGA study found.

BGA – in a joint investigation with the Chicago Sun-Times – analyzed CPS records obtained in an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request.

Under the program, which has since been halted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the wake of the investigation, CPS employees are paid in cash for unused sick and vacation days they have accumulated throughout their careers.

The highest payouts went to long-time CPS administrators, including former City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Wayne Watson, who has received $300,000 of a $500,000 payout for the 500 sick days he accrued during his tenure.

Unlike the typical use-it-or-lose-it policy many employers have, CPS employees can accumulate sick and vacation days year over year and convert them to cash payments when they retire or leave the system.

According to BGA, the policy costs CPS – which is facing a shortfall in its $6 billion budget – about $44 million per year. For some employees, the program can even boost their pension benefits, because the payouts can inflate the final-year salaries that their pension benefits are based on.

The Education Department did not respond to’s request for comment. However, a spokesman told the Chicago Sun-Times that Duncan thought the policy deserved a “good hard look at whether that policy makes any sense” in times of budget distress.