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2012 June 25 - 12:00 am

POLITICS and POLICY: NJ Finds Wide Disparities in County College President Deals

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey officials should establish guidelines for standardizing some parts of the contracts for the state’s community college presidents, the state government’s in-house watchdog agency said.

The Office of the State Comptroller called for changes as part of a report looking at compensation for the leaders of the states 19 community colleges. The report found a wide disparity in pay and especially other benefits for the college presidents. Expense account payments in 2010, for example, ranged from $648 for Sussex County College President Constance Mierendorf to $45,415 for Brookdale Community College President Peter Burnham. Both of them have since left their jobs.

Comptroller Matthew Boxer said that there should be more uniformity in the college presidents contracts and that the guidelines should be hammered out by the states secretary of higher education.

“We’re not suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said in a statement, “but it’s appropriate to set boundaries when schools are spending taxpayer dollars.”

Boxer’s office began looking into the issue more than a year ago after two county college presidents resigned amid allegations of financial malfeasance and a third engaged in a public feud with the county executive over his expense reports.

The study of the contracts, like an analysis of contracts by The Associated Press published last year, didn't find any legal violations. But it did point to major differences in pay.

Total compensation packages, including salary, pension contributions and perks such as housing and car allowances ranged from less than $170,000 to more than $440,000 in 2010.

Boxer was particularly critical of the colleges’ pension contributions. Under state law, the schools are to put an amount equivalent to 8 percent of each chiefs salary toward his or her retirement fund. But 17 of the states 19 public community colleges exceeded that contribution.

The biggest contribution, of more than $150,000 — or about 15 times the required amount — went to Thomas Brown, the then-president of Union County Community College.

Like a handful of other leaders with some of the richest benefits, Brown has since retired. The AP found in its review that recently hired presidents generally had fewer and less generous benefits spelled out in their contracts.

Other changes Boxer called for included requiring college presidents to submit receipts when they ask for expense reimbursements, having the schools post their presidents contracts online and not awarding the presidents bonuses except for meeting goals stated in their contracts.

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