State lawmakers lash out at COD severance package

Saying they don't want a repeat of the $762,868 buyout the College of DuPage board is giving outgoing President Robert Breuder, suburban Republican legislators are proposing measures they say will prevent such costly agreements in the future while ensuring greater transparency.

The proposals include limiting severance packages to no more than the retiring educator's yearly salary and benefits, cutting off state money for some retirement deals, moving school board elections to the fall, and limiting the naming of buildings after educators.

State Reps. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, Peter Breen of Lombard and Ron Sandack of Downers Grove were joined by other lawmakers Monday as they announced several proposals aimed at taxpayer-funded severance packages.

The news conference in downtown Chicago came less than a week after the COD board voted 6-1 for a second time to approve the severance package with Robert Breuder. It calls for Breuder to be paid nearly three times his base salary when he retires on March 31, 2016, about three years earlier than his contract calls for.

“Over 400 residents, teachers, students and taxpayers came together last Wednesday night for over three hours to speak against the board and the generous buyout of Dr. Breuder's contract,” Ives said. “Many questions remain surrounding the board's sudden decision.”

Ives, who praised COD Trustee Kathy Hamilton for casting the only “no” vote against Breuder's deal, said the proposed laws, which haven't all been finalized, would “make it easy to distinguish and empower the principled and the honorable over the opportunistic and the unethical.”

She has called for a performance audit of COD's finances going back to 2011. In addition, Ives wants members of the public to get two weeks to review all employee contracts with compensation amounts greater than $150,000. She also wants public hearings to be held before a board can vote to accept the contracts.

“In the case of COD, had this bill been in place,” Ives said, “the public would have had ample time to view the contract, discuss it with the trustees before the vote, and, I believe, put enough scrutiny on the improprieties of the contract that alternatives would have been sought.”

A COD spokesman didn't immediately return an email seeking reaction to the proposals from Ives and others, but the college did provide a copy of a letter dated Jan. 30 in which it asks Auditor General William Holland not to wait for Ives' legislation to conduct a performance audit of state funds received by the school.

“Rather than wait for the conclusion of the legislative process, this letter is formally requesting that your office conduct this audit at your earliest possible date,” COD Senior Vice President of Administration Thomas Glaser wrote. “We pride ourselves in having a staff composed of competent individuals that take care in being good stewards of the grant monies provided to the college by the state of Illinois.”

Meanwhile, Breen said he believes the COD board “committed a betrayal of the public trust.”

His proposed legislation would prevent future severance agreements from exceeding one year's salary and benefits.

“That's enough if you had to draw or attract a college administrator from out of the state,” Breen said. “It would be enough in terms of a return to guarantee their (administrator's) job security as well.”

The legislation, which Breen is calling the “Breuder Rule,” also would forbid community college boards from raising property taxes, tuition or fees for the same number of years as any excessive payout they award under current severance agreements.

“Taxpayers and the students did not make this mistake,” Breen said. “So the taxpayers and the students shouldn't have to pay for it.”

Sandack said he wants to ban boards from using state money to pay for severance deals such as Breuder's.

“If local units of government determine it's in their best interest ... (to make) deals like this, it is on their dime,” Sandack said.

Sandack also wants to move future school board elections to the fall, where there's “genuine interest” in the races among candidates and voters.

“For far too long, school boards have gone under the radar,” Sandack said. “Elections have come and gone with very little participation.”

While he wasn't at the news conference, officials said state Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville will seek legislation to shorten the terms for all community college trustees to 4 years from 6 years.

State Rep. Christine Winger of Wood Dale, who was at the news conference, criticized Breuder's buyout. “I would like to see us continue to put pressure on the College of DuPage board to reverse this decision,” Winger said.

Democrats have proposals of their own. State Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park wants to keep names like Breuder's off government buildings. Part of Breuder's severance package with the college calls for the school's Homeland Security center to bear his name.

State Rep. Jack Franks of Marengo wants to reduce the amount of state money COD can receive.

“This caucus is committed to working with our colleagues in our caucus, as well as Democrats on the other side of the aisle,” Sandack said. “to come to good conclusions so that we don't see a repeat.”

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