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2011 July 25 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: NJ Community College Presidents Take Some Cuts

BLACKWOOD, N.J. (AP) — Community college presidents in New Jersey earn an average salary of more than $180,000 per year, and most also get at least part of their housing and car costs paid for by their employers.

According to an analysis by The Associated Press, one-third of the presidents have pension and other retirement contributions and deferred compensation that cost their schools at least $30,000 per year.

The pay packages of the community college presidents have attracted heightened scrutiny — including a state government review — after two college presidents resigned this spring amid allegations of financial malfeasance. A third has feuded with the county executive over his expense account.

At a time when their employment packages are being scrutinized, the economy is sputtering and state aid is shrinking, several presidents have had their pay frozen or have cut back on fringe benefits.

One president isn’t using the gym membership that his contract promises. Another is paying his own mortgage in full as the college prepares to tear down the house that used to be provided for college presidents. And one announced a proposal to reduce his expense account by $15,000 a year.

Ocean County College President Jon Larson, the state’s highest-salaried community college president, said he’s donated his last two raises to the school’s foundation and that over the last two years, he’s avoided tuition increases.

“Since the financial crisis began in the country, there’s been a kind of a populist concern that people that are paid with tax dollars and student tuition need to be respectful,” he said.

A pair of scandals has only increased that sentiment.

Gloucester County College’s Russell Davis was charged by a prosecutor in April with forgery on loan applications. He has not entered a plea and his lawyer said it would be inappropriate at this stage of the case to comment on the charges.

Auditors say Peter Burnham, president of Brookdale Community College, charged non-work expenses to the school in Monmouth County. He has not been charged with any crimes, however and his lawyer contests the allegations in the audit.

After both of those presidents resigned, the state comptroller — an in-house government watchdog — subpoenaed the contracts of all the state’s community college leaders. A report is likely months away.

Using the state’s public-records laws, the AP also gathered copies of the most recent contracts for 18 of the 19 community college leaders.

The records show the average base salary as of June 30 was $186,000 — $11,000 a year more than what the governor makes, but only about a third of what Rutgers President Richard McCormick earns. Warren County College’s William Austin’s had the lowest, $134,900.

John Roueche, the director of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas, said those figures are less than most presidents across the nation are making.

The benefits go way beyond base pay in New Jersey and elsewhere.

A 2006 survey by the American Association of Community Colleges found 80 percent of community college presidents across the country got housing allowances and the same proportion received car allowances or cars. Roueche said that remains standard, though other extras like country club memberships are being trimmed across the country.

One president — Middlesex County College’s Joan La Perla-Morales — has a home provided. Ten more receive housing allowances from $500 to $2,000 per month.

Another president, Camden County College’s Raymond Yannuzzi, used to have free housing on a former farmhouse on his school’s Blackwood campus. He’s planning to have the home razed to make way for some more parking and perhaps a pavilion.

He recently moved into another home — for which he is paying. “I’m happy with what I get,” he said. “It’s fair.”

Fifteen of the presidents have either cars or stipends for cars provided.

In the new contract he negotiated last year, Yannuzzi gave up his $550 monthly car allowance — but the amount he spent on his car and gas was rolled into his base salary. When Warren County’s William Austin stopped receiving a college-owned car in 2007, he was given $2,000 toward buying one of his own. Cumberland County’s Thomas Isekeneg also does not have an auto allowance.

Isekeneg’s contract, which is the state’s most modest in some respects, does have one extra the others don’t have: The college is to pay for his gym membership.

Charles Brett Jr., the chairman of the southern New Jersey school’s board of trustees, said that perk was a vestige of a previous time and previous college president.

He said Isekeneg, a former vice president at the school who served as interim president before getting the top job last year, prefers to work out in the on-campus gym.

Brett said that the president asked to have the provision taken out of his contract and asked that a new one be added requiring him to pay 1.5 percent of his salary toward his college-provided health insurance plan — a requirement of other college employees.

Brett said that conversations about executive pay at conventions for trustees lately have been all about frugality. “It’s a whole different ball game than it was 15 years ago,” he said.

The duties of community college presidents are growing as enrollment increases and there’s a greater emphasis on fundraising. But presidents are not getting as many extras.

And in New Jersey, the most perk-laden contracts belong to the longest-serving presidents.

Burnham served for 20 years before he resigned in March. His deal called for the college to pay for all property tax increases on his home after 2003 and gave him $1,500 per month on housing. He also got the school to pay for his country club membership and up to $40,000 a year for his children to attend college.

Steven Secare, a lawyer for Burnham, disputed the audit that found Burnham overcharged the school for expenses and said that Burnham was given a contract rich enough to keep him at Brookdale as other schools tried to lure him away.

“People will tell you that Dr. Burnham brought Brookdale Community College to a national level,” Secare said.

Burlington County College’s Robert Messina Jr., who has announced he’s retiring next year just after his 25th year on the job, has a provision that the college pays for his wife to travel with him to conferences. The contract says she’s a “goodwill ambassador” for the college. A college spokeswoman said the benefit cost the school less than $1,000 last year.

The Record newspaper has reported that Bergen Community College President G. Jeremiah Ryan charged nearly $100,000 over four years on upscale meals, alcoholic drinks, travel and golf outings. Faculty members criticized the spending. So did Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, who wants more control over college spending.

Last week, Ryan announced a plan to reduce his annual expense account from $50,000 to $35,000.

Donovan was unimpressed by that limit. She called it “repugnant and ridiculous.”

Comments: ccweekblog

Also from GEOFF MULVIHILL, Associated Press

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