Breuder COD buyout is high — but not uncommon

Stepping down as president of a community college doesn't always mean that institution will stop writing you checks.

Long before College of DuPage's board of trustees approved a controversial $762,000 buyout package for President Robert Breuder, previous boards at the Glen Ellyn school made deals to continue paying former presidents.

After Michael Murphy retired as COD president in 2003, he received nearly $300,000 in salary and benefits to work for a year as a fundraising and government consultant for the man who replaced him — Sunil Chand.

And when Chand was removed from the college's top administrative position in 2008, he was given a deal worth nearly $275,000 to remain as the school's president emeritus. Ultimately, Chand was replaced by Breuder.

So while Breuder is scheduled to leave the college in March 2016 with far more money than his predecessors, the fact that he's getting paid to end his contract early doesn't surprise former COD trustees.

“I don't think it's unusual for COD,” said Kathy Wessel, a former board chairwoman. “I don't think it's unusual in education. Period.”

Wessel said payouts of some kind often are included in departure packages for school superintendents and community college presidents.

The Daily Herald found several recent suburban examples of that.

Richard Fonte resigned in 2007 as College of Lake County president after a year and a half of clashes with the faculty over his previous employment history and management style.

Fonte said at the time he was resigning for “personal reasons,” but board members said it was a mutual decision between both sides.

However, instead of cutting ties, Fonte was kept on for another nine months as “special assistant to the chairperson of the board.” He was paid $146,500 for those nine months, where his chief responsibility was researching federal grant programs for the college. Fonte also kept an $18,000 annuity he was paid in 2007, but he agreed to pay $12,000 to the college's foundation. He was also given free health insurance and had his retirement contributions paid for by the college, which would have amounted to roughly $23,000.

In 2009, the McHenry County College board voted to let President Walter Packard out of the remaining 16 months of his contract so he could care for his ailing wife.

The board kept Packard on as “president emeritus” from late February 2009 until June 2010, when his contract was set to expire. The separation agreement spelled out little in the way of actual duties other than Packard's responsibility to be available to the interim or new president of the college.

In those final months, Packard's compensation package amounted to about $350,000, including roughly $250,000 in salary and another $100,000 in ancillary benefits such as a $12,000 annuity, retirement contributions, life insurance premiums and accrued vacation and sick time payouts. The agreement also covered health insurance premiums for Packard and his wife for an additional three years.

And before Breuder took over at COD in January 2009, he left Harper College with a retirement package valued at nearly $575,000.

One reason compensation is common for departing college presidents is contracts that automatically extend each year unless the board gives some specific direction to the president that it doesn't intend for the contract to roll over, according to Kory Atkinson, a former COD trustee.

Breuder has such a clause in his contract, which is how it was extended early last year to June 30, 2019.

“There's kind of this perpetual 'adding a year to the end of the contract' situation,” said Atkinson, an attorney. “So when the board reaches a situation where they would like to make a change in leadership or the president wants to retire — whatever the circumstance may be — there's still years on that contract.

“Typically, to make any change to any contract, there has to be some benefit to both parties to make the change,” said Atkinson, adding a college runs the risk of getting sued if it fires a president and pays that person nothing.

Atkinson said that was the case in May 2008, when he and five other members of the COD board decided to “transition” Chand from president to president emeritus.

Chand was paid to assist with the transition process by working for Harold McAninch, a former COD president who was brought in to lead the college on an interim basis until Breuder was hired.

The arrangement worked well, said David Carlin, a former COD trustee

Chand “provided invaluable advice and counsel to interim President Hal McAninch on COD's academic programs, construction, collective bargaining agreements, pending litigation and other matters,” he said.

Carlin, who is running for COD trustee again, said the difference between what happened then and what's going on now is that Breuder will be paid to leave early.

“I would have preferred that Dr. Breuder served out the remainder of his contract or entered into a modified agreement which changed his role and responsibilities but would have allowed the community to continue to benefit from his leadership and 35 years of experience in higher education,” Carlin said.

And not all retiring community college presidents get a deal similar to that of Breuder.

At Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, President Margaret Lee plans to retire this June when her contract expires. Board Chairman Bill Stafford said Lee isn't getting any severance.

“She's just retiring,” Stafford said. “There's no extra perks or bonuses or anything. She's doing it the normal way.”

Lee, who has spent 30 years at Oakton and the last 20 as president, said she and other community college presidents believe Breuder shouldn't be getting a $762,000 buyout.

“I think I share the view of many of my colleagues that we should not be judged by Dr. Breuder,” Lee said. “No one I know has that kind of a deal, nor should they. He is giving all of us a bad name.”

• Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this report

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