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State Superintendent calls for 'immediate freeze' on raises for CSU executives

Protesters smashed one of the large glass doors leading into the CSU Board of Trustees' headquarters on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011.
Protesters smashed one of the large glass doors leading into the CSU Board of Trustees' headquarters on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

In a strongly-worded letter to the California State University Board of Trustees today, the state's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, derided recent pay raises for two incoming campus presidents and called for a freeze on executive compensation when hiring for five other open campus president positions.

Last month, the CSU Board of Trustees approved the maximum allowable pay increases for incoming presidents at the system's Fullerton and East Bay campuses. The system will also be conducting president searches for at least five campuses including San Bernardino, California Maritime, San Francisco, Stanislaus and Monterey Bay.

"As I understand it, the executive compensation policy adopted recently by this board states that incoming campus presidents are to receive no more than a 10 percent increase above the pay level of the predecessor," Torlakson wrote in his letter. "This policy was designed to create a ceiling for compensation during a time of crisis. Instead, it appears that it is also being used as a floor."

The CSU system was hit with $750 million in cuts in the 2011 state budget and faces the possibility of another $200 million in cuts in 2012 depending on whether Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative is passed by voters in November.

CSU officials announced last month they will freeze the majority of Spring 2013 admissions and accept only certain community college transfer students and then only to eight of the 23 system campuses because of the drastic cuts to state funding.

Meanwhile, tuition fees have rose more than 300 percent in the last decade, Torlakson wrote.

"I urge my fellow Trustees to seriously consider the long-term fiscal consequences of executive compensation practices that are at odds not only with the state's fiscal condition, but with those of the students and families we serve. As an important first step, I propose placing an immediate freeze on any increase in executive compensation. Specifically, I suggest that the five open campus positions be filled with candidates willing to accept the base pay of their predecessors, with no increase for a specified minimum period of time."

Tina Jung, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education, could not immediately specify what that minimum time period might be.

Torlakson said the Trustees' willingness to increase executive compensation is in "stark conflict" with the recently ratified agreement between the system and its Employees Union that doesn't provide for immediate salary increases for its more than 15,000 classified staff.

"If we have no resources to compensate those who are already hard at work providing for the daily operations of our campuses, how can we justify greater compensation for those who would lead them?" Torlakson wrote.

Torlakson proposes hiring candidates for the five open campus president positions who are willing to accept the base pay of their predecessors, "with no increase for a specific minimum period of time."

A spokesman for CSU could not be immediately reached for comment.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).