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UPDATE: Bill Aims to Curb Excessive Compensation For NJ Community College Presidents

UPDATE: Assembly Republicans Amy Handlin and Donna Simon are drafting legislation that would make compensation for community college presidents transparent and accountable to tuition payers and taxpayers. One bill would require the State Secretary of Higher Education to set guidelines for compensation to ensure uniformity, fairness and transparency. The other would require community colleges to post their presidents’ contract and annual expenses information online. Both measures reflect recommendations made by State Comptroller Matt Boxer in the story below.

With no state standards or guidelines for college trustees to rely on, there are huge disparities in the salaries of New Jersey community college presidents and other forms of their compensation. Analyzing data from 2010, a report from the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) found that community colleges padded their presidents’ compensation with costly perks.

From $648 paid by Sussex County Community College, to $45,415 paid by Brookdale Community College, additional expenses for presidents have included such perks as country club memberships, airfare for spouses and $100-per-person meals.

In addition to Brookdale, three other community colleges paid more than $20,000 to cover expense costs on behalf of their presidents.

Union County College
Union County College (UCC.com)

In 2010, the then-president of Union County College received $441,000 in total compensation. However, Thomas H. Brown was on sabbatical that year. While he received full pay and benefits, the college simultaneously paid another employee to perform the school’s presidential duties.

Essex County College’s president, in addition to her $245,000 base salary, separately received the following: a $3,500 monthly housing allowance, unlimited use a college-funded Lincoln MKZ, $2,000 for round-trip flights between New Jersey and Florida, more than $20,000 to relocate from Florida, and cell phone bills worth $3,500. Dr. Edythe M. Abdullah, who still sits as president, also used the college credit card to send each of the school’s 11 trustees a holiday gift basket ($550).

Brookdale paid nearly $900 in lodging expenses for five separate stays for its president at a Mount Laurel hotel 90 minutes away from campus. College officials were unable to provide an explanation for the payments.

Bergen Community College’s president used the college credit card to make $28,000 in purchases, including $16,600 for meals, liquor and entertainment.

“The true extent of the compensation is being hidden from public view,” said State Comptroller Matt Boxer.

The OSC report also found an overwhelming majority of the state’s 19 community colleges chose to exceed the state-required annual contribution to their presidents’ retirement funds. Union County College paid more than $150,000 to Brown’s retirement fund in 2010, 14 times the required amount. When Brown retired in December of that year, he received a separate $1 million retirement distribution.

State Comptroller Matt Boxer
State Comptroller Matt Boxer (NJ Office of the State Comptroller)

“These perks are being funded by the public, first and foremost,” Boxer said. Funding for New Jersey’s community colleges stems primarily from student tuition, state aid and taxes paid by county residents.

Boxer continued, “There really are no guidelines out there for trustees to follow, and that’s what’s resulted in the litany of different perks and different methods of compensation.”

The OSC report called for the state to establish guidelines for the compensation of community college presidents. It also suggested each college post its president’s employment contract and expense information on its web site.

Boxer said his office has already communicated with the state’s higher education officials, who are in favor of putting new procedures in place.

“We understand that this is not a situation where one size fits all, but when we’re spending taxpayer dollars, some broad parameters would be appropriate,” Boxer said.

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