By Jean Lotus
Departing Triton Community College President Patricia Granados got a generous going away gift when she announced her retirement at the March 25 board meeting: a pension-sweetening raise of 27.4 percent of her salary, bringing it to $312,000 per year.
Granados will not receive the total amount, as it will be pro-rated when she leaves full-time employment at the end of December, but it makes her — per her salary — the highest-paid community college president in the state of Illinois.
Seven other administrators also got pay raises of between 12.8 to 25 percent of their salaries at the March meeting.
Granados' salary spike will trigger the penalty imposed by state legislators in 2005 called the "6-percent penalty." The fines were instituted to discourage universities and school districts from doling out last-minute pay bumps to retiring teachers and administrators. Typically, a pension raise cap of 20 percent should mean Granados won't be collecting a pension on any final-year pay hike of over 20 percent.
But the Triton school board on March 25 voted to give Granados and other administrators two separate pay raises, one on April 1 and on July 1.
Granados also has use of a car and has an annuity payment subsidized by the college.
"Triton will be billed for this pay raise," said State University Retirement System (SURS) Legislative Liaison Jeff Houch.
SURS bills the institution for any pension obligation above the six percent and demands the money be paid up-front.
"We bill them for the liability associated with that raise," Houch said.
Triton has been billed $411,000 in "6-percent penalty" fines for 24 employees since 2005, Houch said. The school has disputed two-thirds of those fines and has paid only $81,000.
He said the average fine the school has had to pay was $17,000.
"Granados's fines will most likely be higher than that," he added.
For the other administrators, the board changed a policy to bump up the low-end of four categories of pay ranges for administrators, starting April 1. They then followed the school president's request for pay raises for several administrators starting July 1.
Administrators in the top tier saw their salary bump up 25.6 percent from a floor of $111,500 to $140,000. The basement level of other admin categories rose by 22 percent to $110,000 from $90,000 and 25.9 percent from $71,000 to $90,000.
The lowest paid category of administrator got a $1,000 bump-up from $65,000 to $66,000.
At the March 25 meeting, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs Douglas Olson's salary went from $161,200 to $192,500, a 19.4-percent raise.
Sean Sullivan, vice president of business services, got a 19-percent boost from $173,252 to $206,250. Cheryl Bowser-Antonich, associate vice president of academic affairs got a 20-percent raise to $165,000.
John Lambrech, associate vice president of facilities got a 12.8-percent raise to $140,000. Quincy Martin III, associate vice president of student affairs got a 20.7-percent raise to $140,000. Finally, Chief of Staff Lindsey Westley got a pay boost of 12.9 percent to $110,000.
Triton College Faculty Association President Stewart Sikora said he was "surprised" at the amounts of the administrator raises. The average salary of a full-time Triton faculty member is $66,205, according to the Illinois Community College Board. The college's enrollment has shrunk by 15 percent over the past couple of years. The school has about 4,000 full-time undergraduates and some 10,000 part-time students.
The average community college president in Illinois earned $192,895 in fiscal year 2013. According to the board's salary 2013 reports, Granados' new salary would make her the highest paid community college executive officer in the state.
Board Chairman Mark Stephens said the board was united on the raises, which he said were recommended by the school's employment recruiter and consultant, Madelyn Sierra of Performance Executive Search of Coral Gables, Fla.
"Our consultant told us we were having problems attracting qualified candidates, because our pay was lower than other schools," Stephens said.
"There were two or three years where the unionized teachers got pay raises, but the administrators did not get any increase," Stephens said. "The consultant looked at our situation and said we'd have a hard time attracting people in the talent pool."
It's unclear whether the school will be penalized for the raises of the other seven administrators unless they retire in the next four years.
Granados herself was a 30-year employee. A Triton success story, she started as an hourly wage earner and worked her way up to college president. Granados will continue to work part-time as a consultant at Triton after her retirement.
"With [Granados'] work ethic and dedication, we're lucky to have her for all those years," Stephens said.
"We have a unique district, with wealthy areas and areas that struggle," Stephens said. "There are diverse needs and diverse groups, and we are certainly going to miss her."