A probe 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 presidents earn large six-figure salaries.
This same review shows many presidents have contracts with provisions that appear to violate law — or in some instances, the contracts automatically renew each year without 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.
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.
"We support our colleges with taxpayer funds and we must ensure we get the best return on that investment possible by graduating students with the skills and training they need to get great jobs," Scott said in a statement about the probe. "Every dollar we invest in our colleges must be geared toward this ultimate goal."
The probe did not cover the salaries and benefits paid to presidents at the state's 12 public universities — which include schools such as University of Florida or Florida State University.
The final report released Monday showed that presidents in the state college system are receiving nearly $10 million in salaries and benefits during the current fiscal year.
Some of the salaries range from nearly $144,000 for the president of North Florida Community College to more than $630,000 to the president 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.
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.
Some college presidents get thousands of dollars each year in car allowances, housing allowances or medical insurance premiums.
One former president at a college in Bradenton received nearly $21,000 for health insurance premiums. Dennis Gallon, president of Palm Beach State College, receives a stipend of nearly $96,000 instead of a car and housing allowance. E. Ann McGee, president of Seminole State College, is receiving $1,000 a year to pay for home Internet access.
Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia College, gets a golf club membership and membership in the group that hosts the Florida Citrus Bowl as part of his nearly $479,000 compensation package. Auditors also found that Shugart received a $190,000 lump sum bonus in 2012.
Miguel called on college board trustees to establish guidelines for compensation and to spell out how much taxpayers will be responsible for paying even after the president is no longer working for the school. Eduardo Padron, Miami-Dade's president, is guaranteed lifetime health insurance after he leaves the college.
"My belief is we will able to work with the local boards and colleges and meet the recommendations," Hanna said.
Miguel's probe 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.
State law was changed in 2011 to limit payouts to no more than 20 weeks but many contracts included provisions that would allow a president to receive a payout above what is allowed in law.
Hillsborough Community College President Ken Atwater was given a contract after the law changed that guarantees him a year's worth of salary even if he is fired.
Hanna noted that the issue of severance payments has been an issue for universities as well after the law was changed. State auditors in February criticized Florida A&M University for having a contract that allowed former President James Ammons to receive a one-year paid sabbatical after he abruptly resigned.
Additionally, 11 colleges had so-called "rolling" contracts that automatically renewed each year without requiring a vote by college trustees. Only eight colleges tied contracts to performance goals.
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