MnSCU pays $287,500 in bonuses for system brass

The bonuses have brought criticism from officials around the state.

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) âÄî The top staff at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system 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. âÄúItâÄôs difficult to see any kind of bonus go out right now,âÄù 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. âÄúPeople are very appalled by this.âÄù According to a list provided to The Associated Press by the system, 35 of the systemâÄôs 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 President Larry Lundblad and Winona State University President Judith Ramaley. All received $12,000. System spokeswoman Melinda Voss 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. While no one in the program below McCormick got the top amount, two did earn the $3,000 minimum. With McCormickâÄôs bonus excluded, the average payout was $7,500. The most common bonus amount was $6,000. AFSCME leaders protested the performance bonus program at the MnSCU Board of Trustees meeting last week, before the amounts and the programâÄôs scope were commonly known. AFSCME took no pay raises in its current two-year contract, which started this summer. Foreman said it was done in the spirit of âÄúshared sacrifice.âÄù âÄúGiving the bonuses to the top level of managers when youâÄôre laying off staff who answer the phone, set up the laboratories and help students and parents âÄî that isnâÄôt shared sacrifice,âÄù she said. AFSCME said at least 60 union members have been recently let go. When the Board of Trustees approved its annual budget in June, it called for about 550 system jobs to be left open or eliminated due to declines in funding. Voss noted that performance pay for the MnSCU executives was in their 2008 contracts. Those deals didnâÄôt 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 systemâÄôs unions received raises of 3 percent to 8.8 percent. The system trustees remain committed to performance pay, she said, because it provides more accountability to the systemâÄôs top leaders. McCormick sets the bonuses based on his review of the executiveâÄôs performance. When AFSCME leaders told trustees at last weekâÄôs meeting that union members were offended by the program, trustee James Van Houten said it seemed equitable to him. âÄúThe executives have waited a whole year for the pay,âÄù he said. âÄúMy feeling is that everyone has been treated fairly.âÄù Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, chairman of the House higher education committee, said many people on system campuses that heâÄôs toured recently disagree. âÄúItâÄôs the talk of the town,âÄù he said. âÄúPeople arenâÄôt happy, from the students on up.âÄù Rukavina, a gubernatorial candidate, said paying the bonuses when campus budgets are being squeezed and enrollment is soaring is âÄúplain stupid,âÄù and itâÄôs hurting morale. âÄúEveryone else took a pay freeze,âÄù he said. âÄúTo do this and give bonuses âĦ just smacks of arrogance.âÄù Rukavina said when the Legislature meets next heâÄôll try to put some MnSCU employees on the board to add some âÄúcommon sense.âÄù At least three MnSCU presidents have either donated their bonuses to campus projects or publicly pledged to do so. Winona State spokeswoman Andrea Mikkelsen said Ramaley has promised her $12,000 payout to the universityâÄôs fundraising campaign for a new wellness center.