Perks given to community college presidents

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A country club membership, a monthly discretionary allowance and a house are just a few extra taxpayer-funded benefits, on top of six-figure salaries, enjoyed by presidents of New Mexico’s independent two-year community colleges.

KRQE News 13 requested employment contracts for community college presidents. Some extra benefits include:

  • A $2,500 monthly discretionary allowance for the president at Santa Fe Community College; according to the contract, the president does not have to provide receipts to the college.
  • At San Juan College in Farmington, the president makes $180,000 per year, plus an extra $18,000 housing allowance and a $12,000 car allowance.
  • The president of Clovis Community College gets a 4,000 square foot, Mediterranean-inspired house, owned by the college. The Board will also provide the president with a new or leased car that is replaced every two years.
  • The president of New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs received a $28,000 bonus last year, in addition to his $190,000 salary. He also gets 30 paid vacation days, $12,000 a year to help pay for housing and a car and a membership to the Hobbs Country Club.

“(Taxpayers) should be concerned that maybe someone who is heading up a school, a community college that’s no bigger than a high school, is getting extraordinarily lavish benefits,” said Paul Gessing, Executive Director of Rio Grande Foundation.

President Dr. Steve McCleery of New Mexico Junior College, which has a student population of about 3,200, says there was no negotiating for his contract. Dr. McCleery says the board asked him to re-sign when he was thinking of retiring.

“I’ve never worried about the contract. Being president of New Mexico Junior College is a great honor,” said Dr. McCleery, who has been with the college 30 years. “I stayed because the board asked me to stay.”

NMJC Board Chairman Guy Kesner said the board reviewed employment contracts of neighboring community colleges when drafting Dr. McCleery’s agreement. He says the amount of the contract was to position NMJC to be competitive with neighboring schools.

“I don’t feel like we have to justify (the contract). The taxpayers in the district I represent are very supportive of the work Dr. McCleery does, and most of them are very favorable to secure his employment at New Mexico Junior College,” Kesner said.

Kesner says the $28,000 retention bonus is based on tenure and is given once every three years. He also says the reimbursement for housing and a car is reasonable given the college’s location. As for the country club membership, Kesner and Dr. McCleery says it’s not for the president to practice his golf swing.

“The governor might come to town or the lieutenant governor, the chairman of higher education might come to town and if Dr. McCleery has a need, he needs to have some place to meet with those individuals,” Kesner said. “The only place to do that in Lea County in a private setting, more upscale, is Hobbs Country Club.”

At Clovis Community College, which serves about 3,700 students, Dr. Becky Rowley says living in the college-owned house is a requirement for all presidents. Shey says the house was donated to the college by a local man in 1988. However, the college didn’t take over until the man’s family moved out in 2009. Former President Dr. John Niebling was the first college president to live in the home, Dr. Rowley said.

“That was the expectation as soon as (the board) named me president that I needed to get in there too,” Dr. Rowley said. “I own a house here that I’ve owned for 12 years or something like that that’s two blocks from the big house that I live in.”

Community College Total FY 14 State Distribution 
Central New Mexico College $51,971,700
Clovis Community College $9,670,100
Luna Community College $7,397,100
Mesalands Community College $4,189,300
New Mexico Junior College $5,653,700
San Juan College $23,991,100
Santa Fe Community College $9,206,000
Source: NM Higher Ed Dept.

Dr. Rowley says she has not taken the college up on getting a new car because she’s found no need for it. She says at the time the car benefit was offered, college employees had not received raises in four years.

“I just thought that I didn’t really need to do that, and the college didn’t need to do that at the time, so I don’t really intend to change that,” Dr. Rowley said.

Dr. Rowley and other college officials admit that employment contracts for presidents may seem overly generous but say they are necessary to attract the top candidates.

“At some point, when I’m not doing this job, they may have to pay more to entice someone to move (to Clovis), and I’m not implying that no one would want to move here, but it is kind of isolated. Not everyone will thrive in an environment that is this rural,” Rowley said.

Santa Fe Community College Board Member Linda Siegle added the college must “be competitive, not only with the other schools in New Mexico, but we have to be competitive with areas around us.”

But Gessing says the public has no input into how much taxpayers will give community college presidents and it’s worth analyzing.

“New Mexico is a poor state. It’s a state with a struggling economy,” Gessing said. “Yes, they are high-level executives, but that doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to get as high of a salary and as many benefits as they can squeeze out of the taxpayer.”

Gessing also added size of the college should factor into the amount and benefits offered in each contract. President Dr. Katharine Winograd of Central New Mexico College in Albuquerque, the state’s largest community college with a student population of 28,000, has a base salary of $216,000. She received a $30,000 bonus last school year and also gets an annual $12,000 car allowance.

Gessing says Dr. Winograd’s contract is on par with presidents of some smaller community colleges around the state.

“I don’t see from looking at the contracts any reason that someone who is at a smaller institution should be paid overall with incentives, a more generous contract,” Gessing said. “Someone who is in charge of a relatively small institution would generally be paid less. This is true of corporate America where a big Fortune 500 CEO is going to paid a lot more than someone who is heading up a mom and pop business. That’s the way it is.”

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average salary for college presidents in 2012 was about $170,000.

Several New Mexico community colleges responded to our request for comment on their presidential employment contracts:

 

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