The contracts for Florida state college presidents range widely and in several cases seem to violate state law, according to a review released Monday by Gov. Rick Scott's top oversight official.
In her report, Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel wrote that presidents at the 28 institutions are making anywhere from $143,866 to $630,157 in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, when retirement benefits and other perks are taken into account. In all, compensation for the presidents amounted to more than $9.8 million, though some of that is not state money.
Miguel said how much the presidents actually make was sometimes difficult to figure out, and that there didn't appear to be any guidelines for how much the executives should be paid.
"Therefore, we recommend that the boards of trustees, in consultation with the Division (of Florida Colleges), jointly establish the parameters upon which the presidents' total compensation is determined, document the factors upon which compensation is based and standardize the methodology across state colleges," Miguel said.
Scott, who asked for the review in October, issued a statement late Monday saying colleges should focus their resources on helping students get degrees that will 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 report also highlights 11 colleges where contracts could be read in some cases to entitle presidents to more than the maximum 20 weeks of severance pay allowed by state law. At least two of those contracts hadn't been signed or amended since the law took effect in 2011, and many of the remaining colleges responded that they had fixed the problem by the time the final draft of the report was issued.
The chairman of the board of trustees for Pensacola State College pleaded in vain for his school's name to be removed from the list, saying the oversight was inadvertent and was quickly corrected when an early draft of the report pointed it out and that people who read the report might think the college was intentionally breaking the law.
Some of the colleges also pushed back against the idea of restricting schools' ability to set their compensation for presidents.
"With a system as diverse as ours in terms of size, geography, community demographics and businesses, which leads to varying mix of programs to meet those local needs, it is difficult to imagine that a 'one size fits all' formula for presidential compensation would be very effective," wrote Lake Sumter State College board chairman Timothy Morris in a response. "If, for example, size were a limiting factor, colleges like ours would become training grounds for new presidents who would soon move on to the next opening at a larger school. Such a model would be destabilizing for our college and others like us."
Morris also said the 20-week limit on severance pay for college presidents could hurt recruiting by giving presidents too little job security. Lake Sumter was not one of the colleges cited for allowing more than 20 weeks' worth of severance pay.