WATERVILLE — The superintendent of city schools officially retired Friday but is set to be re-hired and return to his job Nov. 27, collecting both a pension and salary that would total more than his current $130,000 salary, a move Gov. Paul LePage is criticizing as “double-dipping” and “repulsive.”

Eric Haley, 63, superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which serves Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro schools, said in a phone interview Friday that he decided to retire and return to the job based on what he felt would be best for him financially.

“It’s just a financial decision to start drawing my retirement now instead of later,” Haley said. “I don’t know when I’m going to stop working. I like it too much.”

According to AOS 92 figures, Haley earns an annual salary of $130,890. Starting in 2018, he would earn 75 percent of that salary, or $98,917, plus an unspecified figure for his retirement pension.

LePage, who was critical of the practice when he served as mayor of Waterville, blasted the arrangement and said it’s part of a larger statewide problem.

“Shame on the city of Waterville for letting that happen,” LePage said in a phone interview Friday morning.

Contacted Friday by phone, Mayor Nick Isgro said he was not aware Haley had retired.

“This is the first I’ve heard about it, and I’m looking forward to hearing more,” Isgro said. “I think it’s unfortunate I’m finding this out from a news reporter and not from the school board or superintendent.”

In 2013, an analysis by the Maine Sunday Telegram found that the number of public employees in Maine collecting retirement pensions while also earning a salary had doubled over the past decade. A subsequent database compiled by the Telegram listed 2,380 public employees in Maine as of 2014 who were receiving pension benefits while also working and receiving salaries from taxpayer-supported jobs in the public sector. That included state and municipal workers and public school employees, according to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.

In an email sent to AOS 92 school staff members on Friday, Haley, who has been superintendent nearly 17 years, said that while he was retiring, he had asked the board of directors to re-employ him after he is unemployed 30 days as required by state statute, and the board agreed. For that 30-day period, during which Haley will not be paid, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Peter Thiboutot would be the acting superintendent.

“Hopefully this will be a smooth transition but do understand this is a lot for one person to do and so I appreciate you doing all you can do to help Peter and the other office staff during this time,” Haley wrote. “We have tried to arrange things such that you don’t notice any difference in service provided by the Superintendent’s office during this time but having said that, there always seems to be things you didn’t anticipate so please be patient while we work through this.”

Haley explained that Maine Public Employees Retirement System, the retirement system for educators and state workers, estimates three different normal retirement ages for employees based on the number of years of service by a certain date.

He said for employees who were hired 10 years before 1989 or 1990, the normal retirement age is 60, and they can start drawing a pension and not suffer a penalty; but if they draw earlier, the benefit is reduced by more than 2 percent.

The way to maximize a benefit is for people to think about how long they will likely live and whether if they don’t retire and pay into the system, the benefit will be larger.

“But if you think you’re not going to live to 90, you’re probably financially better off to start drawing your pension now,” Haley said.

But LePage said retiring and returning to the same job 30 days later means Haley and others come back to work for double pay. LePage said he has been fighting the issue since he became governor — in 2013 he held an unscheduled news conference to say double dippers suffered from “a character flaw” and called the practice “unconscionable” and “absolutely disgusting” — but has been overridden by the Legislature.

“A lot of teachers double-dip, and we’re paying those people a long time at a very high salary — a very high retirement cost,” LePage said. “The poor teachers who have only got a few years, they’re underpaid.”

He said the practice of superintendents retiring and returning to the same job is one of the main reasons Maine has one of the highest school administrative costs.

“It’s really repulsive,” he said.

Contacted again Friday to respond to LePage’s criticism, Haley said he could have predicted the governor’s response.

“If I retired from the superintendency and I was going to be in charge of Walmart, for instance, nobody would raise an eyebrow,” Haley said. “But because I’m going back to the same position, it seems to infuriate people.”

Steve Bailey, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, said Haley’s pension is for time he already has earned based on the number of years he already has served, so it’s not actually double-dipping.

“It’s not like he’s being paid twice for the same job,” Bailey said.

When someone has worked a long time and elects to start taking a pension and is still a valued entity, he or she can help to fill positions such as those of superintendents, where there are shortages in the state, according to Bailey. People regularly take a pension and take some other form of employment, he said.

He cited as an example a person who works full time but does not retire until age 75 and then three years later dies, and questions whether that is fair to the person or his or her family.

LePage, meanwhile, said he has been fighting the rules ever since he became governor. Mainers, he said, are paying a high cost for school administrators.

“Welcome to government in Maine,” he said. “This is really bad stuff, and teachers can do it, too.”

A call placed to Maine School Management Association Friday morning seeking comment was not returned immediately. Thiboutot was at a conference Friday and unavailable for comment.

Haley has worked as an educator and administrator for 40 years, and in January will have been superintendent 17 years, he said.

Before that, he was principal at Waterville Senior High School for more than 10 years, and assistant principal for five years before that. Before coming to Waterville, he was a mathematics and computer science teacher at Dexter Regional High School, from which he had graduated.

State statute requires that if a person retires and goes back to work for the same organization he retires from, he must be unemployed for 30 days, and that is why Haley will be gone until Nov. 27.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17