COD president Breuder chose against guaranteed pension

How COD president's pension could have been even higher

Departing College of DuPage President Robert Breuder's decision to self-manage his retirement benefits cost him thousands of guaranteed dollars even though taxpayers have contributed at least $418,000 on his behalf.

Breuder, 70, chose to invest the contributions on his own rather than opting for a traditional pension, the State Universities Retirement System reported.

The value of the account has grown less than 2 percent over the 17 years Breuder has been a member, from $579,421 in total contributions to $589,925, according to a report obtained through a public records request.

If he had chosen the retirement system's traditional pension plan instead, Breuder would be entitled to a guaranteed six-figure annual payout that would grow 3 percent each year until his death.

But Breuder, president at COD since 2009 and at William Rainey Harper College in Palatine for 11 years before that, doesn't have to rely just on his SURS investments for retirement.

The two colleges together gave Breuder more than $1.3 million apart from his retirement system benefit, including a $762,868 retirement package the COD board approved for Breuder last week when he announced that he will depart in March 2016, roughly three years before his existing contract was set to expire.

That controversial retirement package will be the subject of a meeting again tonight, when the board will vote on it again to “clarify a procedural motion,” board Chairman Erin Birt said.

Breuder had received a retirement package valued at nearly $575,000 from the Harper College board when he left that post to take the COD job in 2009. According to the terms of that separation agreement, Breuder was paid $462,202 over five annual installments as well as $66,080 for vacation time earned in his final year of employment. He was also given a 2008 Lexus GX470 SUV that officials at Kelly Blue Book estimated to value roughly $45,000 at the time he quit. Neither college's retirement package will boost his state retirement benefit.

The state retirement system's self-managed option is unique among the hundreds of Illinois pension plans and works similar to the private sector's 401(k) plans.

“Most academics might choose this option because of the mobility of their profession,” said Keith Brainard, research director at the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. “It is riskier.”

Breuder did not return calls seeking comment.

Because Breuder will stay on at COD through March 2016, he will accrue more in his retirement plan. Last year, taxpayers contributed $38,760 to the plan. His contract at COD stipulates the college pay his annual retirement contribution of 8 percent of his salary. The state chips in another 7.6 percent, according to retirement system officials.

Since Breuder became president at Harper 17 years ago, state taxpayers have contributed more than $282,000 toward his retirement, according to retirement system records. COD taxpayers have paid another $136,000 toward his retirement benefits. It's unclear whether Breuder made retirement contributions while at Harper or if that roughly $161,000 was paid for him.

Since 2004, Breuder has collected a $33,412-a-year pension from the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System for the 16 years he served as president of Pennsylvania College of Technology from 1981 to 1997. That pension system allowed Breuder to withdraw his personal pension contributions, with interest, totaling $134,657.

At COD, critics questioned why Breuder is entitled to the retirement payout because he is leaving voluntarily before his contract expires. Adam Andrzejewski, founder of the government finance watchdog group For The Good of Illinois and the transparency website, is pushing for the COD board to reconsider in tonight's meeting and has filed suit saying the initial vote was in violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

“Breuder's ‘voluntary' retirement should not be accompanied by a rubber-stamped $762,868 severance payout,” he said. “The hardworking students and taxpayers deserve better governance. Maybe the trustees will come to their senses and stop this financial nonsense.”

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