Auditor: College of DuPage needs to improve oversight, operations
A 14-month probe by Illinois' top auditor of College of DuPage reveals a significant lack of oversight by the school's former board of trustees and administration.
The performance audit, released Wednesday, based its recommendations on an analysis of at least six years of the Glen Ellyn-based school's records and suggests 19 areas the state's largest community college needs to improve.
The 253-page report from Auditor General Frank Mautino says COD's board of trustees needs to increase its oversight in a broad range of areas, including: evaluation of the college president; handling of construction contracts; overall transparency; and members' understanding of their elected roles.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican who called for an investigation of COD's finances last year after the board approved a controversial buyout for then-President Robert Breuder, said the report validates complaints lodged about how the school was run under Breuder.
"The report validates the concerns raised by College of DuPage personnel, (former board Chairwoman) Kathy Hamilton, watchdogs, the media and ordinary citizens as to the mishandling of contracts and money at College of DuPage," she said.
During the audit - which began in July 2015 - the college couldn't provide documentation showing the board had conducted annual performance reviews of Breuder. There also was nothing to indicate the board was receiving quarterly investment reports.
The audit also found lax oversight of construction projects and instances where COD failed to comply with established requirements while purchasing goods and services.
Those purchasing irregularities "came as an astonishing surprise to me," state Rep. Peter Breen of Lombard said. "The lack of oversight or any impulse by the persons bidding or not bidding many millions of dollars in contracts paid for by public money is deeply disturbing."
However, he said the current board - and new college President Ann Rondeau - will deal with "any and all of the issues and irregularities that require addressing."
College leaders echoed that.
"As with all of the challenges we've faced, we will address these issues head-on and continue to institute the necessary reforms," COD board Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi said. "We're dedicated to solving lingering issues from the past and moving steadily toward the future."
The audit's recommendations include defining the financial responsibilities of individual trustees, and adopting standing committees for areas such as finance, budget or academic affairs. In addition, the board should ensure the college president is being evaluated annually and the reviews are documented.
There also are recommendations related to board oversight of college investments, budget transfers, contracts and procurements.
One says the board should consider establishing a system that prequalifies potential contractors and vendors according to the type of work and the size of a project. Another says the college should document the bidding process and ensure bids are opened in public.
The board also should comply with the Open Meetings Act in all future actions related to employment contracts, the audit says, and maintain documentation of all presidential employment correspondence between the president and the board.
Those and other issues exploded in a year marked by firings of college executives, including Breuder; his $763,000 buyout that later was declared invalid; political intrigue; federal and local investigations; and the college being placed on two years probation by the Higher Learning Commission.
"That's something that we spent the better part of 18 months looking at and focusing on," Mazzochi said. "Did they give us some additional areas of inquiry that we should be looking into further? Absolutely."
Some of the recommendations already are being acted on, Trustee Frank Napolitano said.
The board, for example, has investigated internal control issues at the Waterleaf restaurant. Trustees ended taxpayer-funded parties and wining and dining by administrators that took place at the Waterleaf, which was closed after losing almost $2.2 million in a four-year span. It has since been reopened as a student-run facility.
Financial managers were brought in on a temporary basis to oversee the school's accounting and finance operations and to suggest how those practices could be improved. That occurred after the firing of two top administrators - Thomas Glaser and Lynn Sapyta.
Their bad investments, some trustees claimed, failed to protect the financial integrity of the school. Glaser served as senior vice president of administration and treasurer, and Sapyta was assistant vice president of financial affairs and controller.
Both are now suing the college, alleging their firings violated their constitutional rights of free speech and free association. Breuder, too, fought back after his firing. His federal wrongful termination lawsuit seeks more than $2 million in damages from the four trustees who voted to fire him last October.
Breuder could not be reached for comment.
Trustee Charles Bernstein said the board will continue its efforts "to make to our operations more transparent."
Calls for the audit began in January 2015 when the previous COD board gave Breuder the severance package, initially sold as deal to hasten his departure with three years remaining on his contract. The buyout spurred lawmakers and residents to question COD's financial decisions.
In the ensuing tempest, three new members - Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein - were elected, joining Hamilton to form a new majority on the seven-member board.
When the new members were seated on April 30, 2015, one of their first actions was to authorize the state to conduct the performance audit.
On that same night, the new majority also put Breuder on paid administrative leave and hired a law firm to conduct an internal investigation of the school's policies, personnel, practices and finances.
A federal investigation into some of COD's practices began two weeks before those moves. There have been no public indications of what that federal probe has or has not found.