- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (AP) - The Johnston County school board is suing North Carolina’s retirement system.

The lawsuit comes after the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System sent Johnston County a bill for more than $500,000 for the outgoing school superintendent’s pension, The News & Observer of Raleigh (https://bit.ly/1SP4xDH) reported.

The retirement system says the county owes the money because additions to Superintendent Ed Croom’s salary and benefits in recent years triggered a new state limit designed to keep employees with large salaries from inflating their pensions just before retirement.

The retirement system says the $508,000 payment was the amount above what the state can pay Croom under the new limit.

A spokesman for the State Treasurer’s office, Brad Young, would not talk about the lawsuit.

The bill has been lowered to $436,000, but the school board doesn’t want to pay that.

The attorney representing Johnston County, Michael Crowell, said the limit should not apply in Croom’s case because the county did not raise his income much in his final years.

Crowell said Croom worked many years as a teacher, with a much lower salary, before getting a big raise when he became superintendent.

“It’s a mistake to characterize the law as just pension spiking,” Crowell said.

Croom retired March 1 after serving as superintendent for seven years.

His contract allowed him to convert about $44,000 in benefits to salary. He also received two $25,000 payments under a 2014 contract extension.

Those increases, plus $36,600 for unused vacation and bonus days and the fact that he retired at a relatively young age of 50 triggered the new state pension cap, according to the retirement system.

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Information from: The News & Observer, https://www.newsobserver.com

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