Central Lakes College President Larry Lundblad said he understands the criticism regarding performance bonuses given in the state college and university system.
The top staff at MnSCU has been paid $287,500 in performance bonuses this month, prompting criticism from union members at a time of layoffs and attracting the attention of a powerful critic in the Legislature.
"It's difficult to see any kind of bonus go out right now," said Karen Foreman, chairwoman of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees committee that represents about 3,750 union members in the system. "People are very appalled by this."
According to a list provided to The Associated Press by the system, 35 of the system's top employees received the bonuses, including college and university presidents, vice chancellors and system Chancellor James McCormick.
McCormick received the largest bonus, $32,500, which was awarded during a trustees meeting in July. His base salary of $360,000 was not increased. The remainder of the bonuses became public when they were paid out last week.
The other top earners were Vice Chancellor for Finance Laura King, Central Lakes College's Lundblad and Winona State University President Judith Ramaley. All received $12,000.
Lundblad said the bonus was part of the president's contract and an acknowledgment of the hard work done by staff regarding growth and retention goals. Lundblad said he spoke with union leadership about the bonus.
Lundblad said he plans to put the entire $12,000 he received back into programs to benefit CLC students and staff. Projects include replenishing a fund known as random acts of kindness dollars to meet emergency needs for students. Lundblad said the fund was running out of money. The bonus money will be used throughout the year as needs arise, Lundblad said. When he spoke with union leadership, Lundblad said he talked about providing funds for professional development activities for staff, an area the college was forced to scale back previously.
A system spokeswoman said the executives could earn between $3,000 to $15,000 for achieving certain goals. For presidents, those goals could include closing the racial achievement gap, getting more students into math and science programs or developing more training for area businesses.
System spokeswoman Melinda Voss noted that performance pay for the MnSCU executives was in their 2008 contracts. Those deals didn't include a base pay increase, but instead made the executives eligible for the bonuses.
She noted that the pay the executives received this month was compensation for work done during the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009. During that period, she said, the system's unions received raises of 3 percent to 8.8 percent.
Rep. Tom Rukavina, chairman of the higher education committee, said many people on system campuses that he's toured recently disagree. "It's the talk of the town," he said. "People aren't happy, from the students on up."
The Virginia Democrat and gubernatorial candidate said paying the bonuses when campus budgets are being squeezed and enrollment is soaring is "plain stupid" and it's hurting morale.
"Everyone else took a pay freeze," he said. "To do this and give bonuses ... just smacks of arrogance."
Rukavina said when the Legislature meets next he'll try to put some MnSCU employees on the board to add some "common sense."
Two other MnSCU presidents have said they would donate their bonuses to campus projects. Ramaley said before the bonuses were paid that she would donate her $12,000 payout to Winona State's fundraising campaign for a new wellness center.
At Minnesota State University, Moorhead, President Edna Szymanski received a $9,000 bonus. Campus spokesman Doug Hamilton said about a third of that went to taxes and Szymanski split the rest between a scholarship program and funds for a new campus wellness center.
About 250,000 students earn college credits in the system's 32 colleges and universities each year.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.