Illinois lawmakers call for an end to 'lavish perks' for college presidents

 
 
Updated 5/22/2015 6:01 PM
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  • A report questions hefty perks awarded to higher education executives such as College of DuPage President Robert Breuder.

      A report questions hefty perks awarded to higher education executives such as College of DuPage President Robert Breuder. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Community college pay

    Graphic: Community college pay (click image to open)

Illinois Democrats have used the College of DuPage severance scandal in issuing a far-reaching report on what they call "bloat" at state colleges and universities.

To address the issue, senate Democrats propose having the state take over audits of community colleges, cap severance payouts and ban employment contracts from including country club memberships and other perks.

Kept under wraps and not shared with Republicans before its release at midnight Thursday, the report was sparked at least in part by the $762,000-plus severance package given to COD President Robert Breuder.

Since the deal was cut, lawmakers have rushed to call for reforms, including Republicans' success in getting the college to pay for a sweeping audit of its operations.

The Democrats' report piles on.

"At the same time tuition and student debt are rising at a breakneck pace, the administrative systems of public institutions have expanded into sprawling behemoths, with some of those at the very top enjoying lavish perks, including expense accounts, club memberships, vehicles, and golden parachute severance payments," the report says.

Breuder, the COD president since January 2009, is set to be paid nearly three times his base salary when he retires March 31, 2016 -- an arrangement that has drawn the ire of lawmakers.

With a base salary of $292,739, other benefits bring Breuder's total compensation package to $495,092. It's noted in the report that taxpayers cover his membership to Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, a private hunting club in Dundee Township.

COD board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton said Friday she hasn't read the report but is aware of it. Hamilton has long complained about what she viewed as a lack of oversight and a failure to monitor spending at the Glen Ellyn-based community college.

She said she wasn't surprised to learn the report shows what happened at COD is occurring at other colleges.

"There is a fundamental flaw in the structure of the community colleges that allows these kinds of problems," Hamilton said. "It's endemic."

Presidents of COD, Harper College, Elgin Community College, Oakton Community College and College of Lake County account for five of the top 10 community college chief executive salaries in Illinois, the report states.

College of Lake County President Jerry Weber was mentioned for his $1,800 monthly housing allowance and an annuity paying him $21,150 annually. The report lists his total compensation at $323,033.

"I haven't had a chance to carefully review the report," Weber said in response. "However, I see nothing wrong with reviewing compensation. In fact, my compensation has been reported in the press previously, and the compensation for all full-time community college faculty and administrators has been available on a public website for several years."

William Griffin, board chairman at Grayslake-based CLC, said while Weber does a good job, it's time to scrutinize what's provided to top administrators at all levels of public education in Illinois. He said he'd be willing to work with state legislators in such an effort.

"I think we need to take a good look at all of it," Griffin said. "Some of what's in (the report) are things that shouldn't be happening."

CLC also was in the report for giving a prorated $146,250 in severance pay to former President Richard Fonte, who resigned in 2007. Griffin declined to comment on a 10-month deal that allowed Fonte to work from home as the CLC board chairman's special assistant.

Elgin Community College landed in the report for President David Sam's $26,000 annual housing allowance. Sam's annual total compensation is $361,283.

Sam and the ECC board of trustees are reviewing the report, according to a college spokesman.

At Palatine-based Harper College, President Kenneth Ender gets a $32,000 annual housing allowance and $25,000 in deferred compensation. The report puts his total compensation at $376,952.

State community colleges generally don't provide presidents with housing allowances, according to the Democrats' report.

McHenry County College in Crystal Lake was highlighted in the document for providing outside equipment, such as a laptop computer, fax, wireless telephone and home Internet service, to President Vicky Smith. Her total compensation is $220,929.

The sweeping report came as lawmakers have less than two weeks left in their scheduled session, and other proposals aimed at COD have been slowly winding through the system.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican, won approval for the state audit of COD. State Sen. Michael Connelly, a Lisle Republican, pushed for a plan to limit mailers sent by colleges before an election.

COD spent $200,000 on glossy mailers just before the April election.

In addition, Grayslake Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush proposed capping severance payouts in the same way as the report back in February.

•Staff writers Doug T. Graham, Robert Sanchez and Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this report.

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