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'Rebalancing' plan for college officials' pay draws protests

L.A. Community College District seeks to cut executives' car allowances and use the money to raise salaries while students face cutbacks.

April 16, 2013|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles Community College District proposal to lower the car allowances given to campus presidents and other executives — but use the money to boost salaries — has come under fire at a time when many students are unable to get classes because of budget cuts.

Senior executives receive a $1,530 monthly allowance, the highest of any district in the state. Under a plan to be considered by the Board of Trustees on Wednesday, that amount would be reduced to $500 a month, effective July 1.

The difference of $1,030 would be shifted to increase the salary schedules of nine campus presidents and six district administrators. New salaries for presidents would range from $175,652 to $204,092, compared with the current $163,292 to $191,732.

Chancellor Daniel LaVista and Board President Steve Veres said that the action would not result in a net increase or decrease to compensation, and that the adjustments were fair because community college presidential salaries in Los Angeles lag behind those in other districts.

In arguing for the "rebalancing," the district cited surveys by the Assn. of California Community College Administrators showing that the average maximum salary statewide for a president of a multi-campus district who holds a doctorate was nearly $197,000; the average presidential car allowance was about $7,656 annually.

The Los Angeles district is the largest in the state, and presidents are required to perform a multitude of tasks in the community, said Michael Shanahan, the senior associate vice chancellor for human resources.

"We really have had some issues with stability and turnover at the executive level, and we need to address that part," Shanahan said.

But opponents said the salary increase was inappropriate in a district that has lost more than $100 million in state funding since 2008, resulting in fewer class offerings and students being turned away.

"This is a maneuver to keep something that shouldn't have ever been there," Trustee Scott Svonkin said. "We should be investing any extra money we have in classes. Our No. 1 responsibility is to provide people with an education, not provide perks to the highest-paid employees."

Svonkin said he has been fighting to eliminate the car allowance, arguing that campus presidents should be reimbursed for travel-related expenses rather than paid to drive to work.

Others were critical of boosting executives' salaries when the district's faculty and staff have gone for years without raises.

"We're cutting classes, we're understaffed, we're not hiring for new positions. I don't know how [the chancellor] considers this evening the playing field, " said Velma Butler, president of the American Federation of Teachers Staff Guild, Local 1521A. The group represents about 1,200 clerical and technical staff. "If you're putting money into the base salary, most people can do the math and would say this is an increase."

The Los Angeles district is looking to fill presidential slots at the City, Trade-Tech and Harbor campuses. Those new hires would receive the adjusted salaries if they are approved, Shanahan said.

Pay increases for college presidents became an especially divisive issue in 2011, when the California State University Board of Trustees approved a $400,000 salary for the new San Diego State president — $100,000 more than his predecessor — and a 12% tuition increase at the same meeting.

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