The president of Spokane Falls Community College earns 50 percent more money than he did five years ago.
His boss and two vice presidents of the community college system are making nearly 30 percent more money over the same period.
This comes at a time when the colleges are shutting down popular trade programs, slicing into others and raising tuition.
“They are feathering their nests,” said Mark Doerr, an SFCC English instructor. “I think they are ignoring what the students’ needs are.”
Not so, say college trustees.
They say the salaries are equivalent to those being paid to other top administrators in the state, and they blame the broader budget cuts on legislators, not themselves.
Lawmakers may be willing to pay higher salaries, but they aren’t doing much to strengthen offerings on campus, college officials said.
The colleges have lost 15 percent of their spending power over the past four years, according to business manager Tay Conrad.
Juggling programs and personnel in the face of cutbacks requires effective administrators, trustees said.
“The reality is: If you want someone competent, well-educated and experienced, … you have to at least offer the going rate, and that’s what we did,” said Roberta Greene, chairwoman of the trustees.
Last week, trustees granted a new round of top-level salary increases.
Terry Brown, chief executive of the Community Colleges of Spokane, will make $106,000 a year, up from the $97,000 he earned in each of the past two years and the $81,575 he earned five years ago. He is getting 30 percent more over that time. Vern Loland, SFCC president, is getting a $9,000 raise to $96,000.
The new pay puts him on par with incoming President James Williams of Spokane Community College, who was hired last spring out of California for $96,000.
In 1990, Loland was earning $65,871, so his current salary amounts to a 50 percent increase in five years.
It’s the second time that the hiring of a new president at SCC has led to a pay increase for Loland. In 1991, he got a boost to $80,000 after former SCC President Joe Rich was hired for that amount.
Loland and Brown were at a meeting of community college presidents in Bellingham last week and did not return telephone calls about their salary increases.
The two college presidents and chief executive Brown now earn about the same amount as their counterparts statewide, Greene said.
Until recently, the presidents of Walla Walla Community College and Clark College in Vancouver each received $94,000 a year. The chancellor of the three community colleges in Seattle made $124,000 a year.
Nationwide, the average salary for community college presidents at schools with 3,000 to 5,000 students is $96,000 a year.
But Doerr and others argue the presidents of SFCC and SCC don’t have as much responsibility as other community college presidents because they have the chief executive and a district office to handle some of the administrative workload, including personnel matters, budgeting and community outreach.
However, Greene said the two Spokane colleges are fairly large compared with other community colleges and have a wide array of programs throughout the region.
“We have very competent people running our colleges,” Greene said. “You can get somebody for less money, but what are you going to end up with?”
The higher pay was approved by the Legislature during its last session and was allocated to the colleges in a pool of money for some 100 administrators, professionals and secretaries on the Spokane campuses.
The Legislature provided for a 4 percent salary increase for that group of employees but gave the colleges discretion over how to distribute the money.
Some employees in the group got smaller increases to make up for the larger amounts paid to top administrators.
Faculty members are expecting to receive a 4 percent raise, also approved by the Legislature.
All non-teaching staff members got a 4 percent raise from the state as well.
If the colleges don’t hand out the money as salary increases, it must be returned to the state.
At the same time, the operating budget of the colleges is down 3 percent for the coming school year, and students are paying 4 percent higher tuition this year. A year’s tuition at the community colleges now is $1,350.
Nick Nickoloff, president of the teachers union at the colleges, said big salary increases for top administrators may seem out of place, but it’s the Legislature that deserves criticism.
“I can’t blame the local board because they don’t have any options,” Nickoloff said.
At SCC, the popular printing program has been eliminated despite a relatively high demand for skilled printers who earn $9 to $17 an hour.
At SFCC, the college radio station as well as the radio broadcast program are being phased out this year. Students say the program is successful and should be kept in place.
But officials said it costs too much money to buy and maintain the equipment needed for those programs.
Eight teaching positions and seven non-teaching jobs are being eliminated. At least one person - and maybe more - will be laid off. Equipment purchases also are being cut.
Trustee Greene and other college supporters want the Legislature to guarantee that higher education will receive a specific percentage of the state general fund budget each year.
The share of the budget going to all state colleges and universities has fallen from 15 percent to less than 11 percent in the past decade as lawmakers have put more money into prisons, social programs and public schools.
“To me,” Greene said, “it’s open season on the budget of the community colleges.”