Review questions salaries for state college presidents in Florida

Published May 14, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — An inquiry ordered by Florida Gov. Rick Scott has determined that the pay and benefits of state college presidents varies widely with little explanation as to why some earn large six-figure salaries.

This same review shows many college presidents have contracts with provisions that appear to violate law — or in some instances, renew automatically each year without explicit approval by local college boards.

Randy Hanna, chancellor of the Florida College System, said the critical review is prompting college boards across the state to alter and amend the contracts now offered to presidents.

Trustees for the three colleges studied in the Tampa Bay area — Hillsborough Community College, St. Petersburg College and Pasco-Hernando Community College — all said in letters to the governor's office that contracts with their presidents recently had been or were being updated to conform with a state law restricting severance pay.

Scott last year ordered his chief inspector general to review the salaries and benefits offered to the 28 presidents in the state college system after trustees at a Jacksonville college agreed to a $1.2 million severance package with the outgoing president.

Scott issued a statement Monday saying colleges should focus resources on helping students get degrees that lead to jobs.

"Every dollar we invest in our colleges must be geared toward this ultimate goal," he said. "The report issued today provides information necessary for our State College Board of Trustees to use when reviewing current and future compensation contracts."

The inquiry did not cover salaries and benefits paid to presidents at the state's 12 public universities, which include the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida.

The report showed that presidents in the state college system are receiving nearly $10 million in salaries and benefits during the current fiscal year. Only eight of the colleges tied contracts to performance goals.

Salaries range from $143,866 at North Florida Community College to $630,157 at Miami-Dade College.

State law limits college president salaries to $225,000 if the money comes directly from state taxpayers. But colleges are allowed to augment the salary with money from other sources and, indeed, the study found half the colleges — including SPC — pay more than the statewide average of $350,403.

Of the 28 salaries studied, SPC president William Law Jr. ranks seventh; HCC president Ken Atwater 16th; and PHCC president Katherine Johnson 17th.

Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel noted that in some instances the total amount of pay and benefits offered to presidents "was not readily transparent" or that some contracts offered benefits for life, which means the total owed by taxpayers is difficult to calculate.

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Some college presidents get car allowances, or housing allowances or medical insurance premiums. At HCC, a $20,000 annuity payment was determined to be the lowest in the state. But at PHCC, a $15,685 car allowance was found to be the highest.

Miguel's inquiry also noted that most colleges had contracts that appear to violate state laws designed to restrict severance packages paid to presidents who either resign voluntarily or are forced to leave their job.

Many included provisions that would allow a president to receive a payout above what is allowed in law.

Additionally, 11 colleges had "rolling" contracts that automatically renewed each year.

The chairman of the PHCC board of trustees wrote in a letter to the governor's office that there's more to it.

While PHCC does have a "rolling renewal clause" in the contract, the letter said, "it is reviewed and renewed annually by the PHCC District Board of Trustees."

The Associated Press and the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.