Rick Scott orders review of college sabbatical payments after big Broward payout

'You are accountable,' governor tells college trustees who approved payment
David Armstrong, president of Broward College [Broward College photo]
David Armstrong, president of Broward College [Broward College photo]
Published April 13, 2018|Updated April 13, 2018

Gov. Rick Scott wants the state Board of Education and Board of Governors for higher education to investigate all sabbatical payments to departing college presidents in Florida.

The governor took the unusual action after reports that the board of trustees at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale agreed to pay departing college president David Armstrong $381,000, or the equivalent of a full year's salary, after he becomes president emeritus on June 30.

Armstrong will assist with the transition to a new college president.

Scott, who appoints the college trustees, told them in a letter: "You are accountable to the citizens of our state and all of the members of the organizations you serve and all decisions of this magnitude deserve explanation."

Florida's auditor general recently questioned the payment to Armstrong, which will total $421,000 after benefits are added, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

In an operational audit of the college, auditors wrote: "Notwithstanding Board authority to establish employee positions and related compensation, although we requested, college records were not provided to demonstrate the reasonableness of the president emeritus position compensation at the same rate the individual was compensated while serving as president. Based on the job description, the expected responsibilities for the president Emeritus appear more of an advisory role with some responsibilities associated with enhancing the individual's instructional skills."

The audit noted that Broward College reviewed the contracts of presidents of six similarly-sized colleges, two of which had sabbatical provisions. The auditor general's full report can be found here.

The college defended the decision and said the payment to Armstrong "will prove its worth over time," the newspaper reported.

Scott formally declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate Monday. His office released the letter several days after the Times/Herald asked his office for a response to Armstrong's sabbatical payment.

"Recently, I was made aware of a decision by the Broward College District Board of Trustees regarding a sabbatical payment to the outgoing president," Scott wrote in the April 12 letter. "I assume you have made a decision on how this (payment) will provide value to the 66,000 students at Broward College and the taxpayers of Florida. As appointed members of the Board of Trustees, each of you has a responsibility to be accountable to the taxpayers of Florida and endure the organization you see operates with fiscal prudence."

Armstrong, a popular figure in Broward business and political circles, has been president since 2007. He  issued a statement on Friday in response to Scott's letter.

"I want to thank the governor for giving me the opportunity to further clarify any possible miscommunications about my contract," Armstrong's statement said. "My transition to president emeritus on June 30 will greatly benefit our students and the community and is not financed by student fees or taxpayer dollars. The position, which will last up to one year, has been publicly vetted, approved by the board and has a defined job description. A critical part of my function will be to assist with the transition in leadership of the college and help produce non-traditional revenues to further enhance student success at the college. I am committed to returning measurable value to the institution and to the community."

One of Armstrong's duties as president emeritus is to provide outreach to the Florida Legislature on behalf of the college, which is still widely known as "BCC" for its former name, Broward Community College. It is the oldest and largest higher educational institution in Broward County.

After the story of the payment to Armstrong broke, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, suggested cutting the college's budget by $381,000. But that proposed cut did not make the final budget.