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At Community College, President’s Pay, Perks and P-Card Charges Have Faculty Up In Arms

At a Michigan community college which employs hundreds of adjuncts in order to keep down costs, a new budgeting strategy which the president says aligns spending with the college’s strategic priorities has faculty up in arms. The college’s latest budget ups funding for instruction and instructional support by 1.4 percent while funding for student aid is down significantly. 

by P.D. Lesko

LIKE COLLEGE leaders across the U.S., Washtenaw Community College President Dr. Rose Bellanca faces significant financial challenges in her job. At WCC, enrollment is down from historic highs, personnel expenses are up and Dr. Bellanca is overhauling her budget so that allocations are keyed to a new strategic plan.

Faculty leaders allege Dr. Bellanca did not share details of her strategic plan with them, despite repeated requests. As a result, faculty leaders say they have no way of knowing what Dr. Bellanca’s strategic plan is and whether the most recent budget actually reflects the goals of that plan. This grievance was voiced in the faculty’s resolution of no confidence:

“Whereas WCC’s ‘Strategic Plan’ was presented to the board one year ago yet, despite numerous requests, its details have not been briefed to the faculty nor, despite numerous requests, have the faculty been presented with the plan’s measurable outcomes.”

Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg teaches political science at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters. He calls strategic plans “another ubiquitous make-work exercise” for college administrators.

WCC VP Bill Johnson said that “the new process that aligned every expense to the Strategic Plan entailed more than 50 meetings between VP Bill Johnson, the college’s other vice presidents and leadership teams.”

The devil is in the details, and WCC’s faculty union leaders say faculty have had since late-June to study the details of Dr. Bellanca’s new budgets for their individual departments. However, they don’t like what they’ve seen thus far and question Bellanca’s 1.4 percent increased allocation to instruction.

“What is the mission of this institution if not instruction? A 1.4 percent increase is paltry, ridiculous,” said a faculty member who asked not to be identified.

Most, strategic plans, says Dr. Ginsberg, are nothing more than “expanded vision statements,” busy work for administrator-heavy institutions, and forgotten soon after they’re implemented.

Reminiscent of presidential candidate George H. W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention who famously said: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Dr. Bellanca told the public at a Trustees’ meeting at which she presented her budget: “No one’s budget has been cut – that’s not happened.”

Bellanca

Dr. Rose Bellanca has weathered blistering criticism from her faculty—including a vote of no confidence—over the past 12 months. WCC’s president stands accused of attempting to dismantle the college’s academic structure. Her strategic plan and proposed budget for 2015 have faculty looking askance. Photo courtesy of WCC.

If, indeed, her statement is accurate, Dr. Bellanca will have bucked a nation-wide trend whereby community colleges face reduced revenues, falling enrollments, rising expenses and significant budget cuts.

Davis Jenkins, senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, says, “Community colleges have cut costs, but in areas of instruction — core business — in ways that are not good for education.”

“Colleges have become that much more dependent on tuition as they absorb these budget cuts,” says David Baime, senior vice president, Government Relations and Policy Analysis at American Association of Community Colleges. “To that extent, enrollment drops do create issues for them, as they would for private colleges that are thought to be more tuition dependent.”

This is exactly the challenge which faces WCC. Falling enrollment was expected to produce a $1 million hole in the college’s 2015 budget. Tuition was raised 2.2 percent to generate $1.4 million in additional revenue.

When the new budget was released, faculty representatives were quick to respond. Former faculty union president Jennifer Baker told The Washtenaw Voice, the student newspaper: “I don’t have a sense of how drastic it is, but I can tell you that they (department budgets) have been cut.”

The student newspaper has repeatedly asked for the college’s departmental budgets. That newspaper’s requests have met with stonewalling by WCC officials, according to the student journalists.

The college’s financial documents and records are subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Since the student newspaper began covering the ongoing dispute between Dr. Bellanca and her faculty, student journalists allege college officials have begun putting up roadblocks, including withholding public records.

Susan Ferraro, who handles PR for the college, has said she facilitates the students’ requests for information.

While Dr. Bellanca is no Michael McCall, a random sampling of college P-Card records released in response to FOIA requests reveal in a single month WCC’s president spent thousands on meals out.

Dr. Michael McCall is the embattled president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and the highest paid community college leader in the U.S. His base salary was $317,962 in 2013. With perks, including a housing and car allowance, McCall earned $641,699 in 2013.

Dr. Bellanca’s contract calls for base pay of $202,878.  Her 2013 W-2 shows she was paid $214,167.27 from which over $63,000 in state and federal taxes were withheld. The W-2 also shows the college spent $16,599.60 for Dr. Bellanca’s health insurance.

Community-college presidents earned a median base salary of $167,000 in 2012, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Dr. Bellanca also receives a leased car for business and personal use (with all expenses paid, including fuel), a $15,000 housing allowance, $12,000 in deferred compensation annually, a $9,000 allowance for miscellaneous expenses and unused leave time in the form of compensation. This puts the cost of her contract to taxpayers above $250,000 per year. This is roughly what the Ann Arbor Board of Education pays Superintendent Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift.

According to a survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012, “Beyond base salaries and total compensation, most community college presidents reported receiving some form of allowance. Sixty-six percent said they received a college-provided car or car allowance, 58 percent said they received allowances for professional club dues, and 32 percent said they received college-provided housing or a housing allowance.”

While such perks are not ubiquitous, neither are they unusual. However, in times of budget and staffing cuts presidential perks raise questions and hackles.

Dr. Bellanca heads a community college which has struggled with falling enrollment. According to data compiled by the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers, between 2010 and 2013, enrollment dipped from 14,056 students to 11,410 students, an almost 20 percent decline. This is not the largest enrollment decline among Michigan’s 28 community colleges—one community college saw a 30 percent enrollment recline in 2013 alone. However, at WCC declining enrollment has put pressure on the college’s budget.

The community college’s 2014 general fund budget includes $32.4 million in revenue from tuition and fees. This amount makes up about one-third of WCC’s total revenue. A millage paid by county residents generates $47.5 million in revenue and state revenue sharing accounts for $13 million of the total $100 million budget.

The college’s investment income plummeted by $940,000 between 2011 and 2013 and the college’s controversial recreation center lost $1.3 million annually over the same period. Since Dr. Bellanca’s hiring, personnel costs at the college have risen by $4.4 million. In fact, the employment of seven vice presidents was one of the complaints included in the faculty’s vote of no confidence:

“Whereas, in the three years of President Bellanca’s tenure, the College has gone from having two full vice presidents and four associate vice presidents to having seven full vice presidents and is now in the process of hiring a new associate vice president, even as budgets for areas across the college are being cut, most disconcertingly positions that support students and instruction are being eliminated or are left unfilled, as evidenced by the reduction in counselors and in college lab support staff.”

While faculty leaders said they expected budget cuts, it’s Dr. Bellanca’s alleged lack of transparency that has faculty once again up in arms.

Jennifer Baker told The Washtenaw Voice: “I think that the big deal is that there is misrepresentation of what’s happening,” Baker said. “I don’t think that faculty overall expect that everything will be hunky-dory from here on out financially, but there should at least be transparency.”

In fact, the budget posted to the college’s website in response to Section 209 (1) of the Public Act 94 of 1979, The State School Aid Act, is absolutely bare bones. Finding more detailed budget information requires either an extensive online hunt for audited financial statements and budgets from previous years, or a Freedom of Information Act request.

Decreased Funding for Student Aid and Instruction

According to WCC’s 2013 annual Financial Report, over the course of Rose Bellanca’s tenure, the college has reduced the amount  spent on instruction from $43.1 million to $42.5 million. She has also reduced the amount spent on instruction support from $11.5 million to $10.8 million.

The largest overall reduction in funding, however, has come in the form of funding allocated to student aid and student services. Between 2011 and 2013, the amount the college spends on student aid and services was reduced from $36.1 million to $25.4 million, an almost 30 percent cut.

While cutting the amount spent on its own students’ instruction and services, the community college has been developing a stream of revenue from offering expanded corporate and community training.

For instance, WCC administrators came very close to helping the Ypsilanti Public Schools outsource foreign language instruction. In essence, WCC instructors would have been scabs, taking jobs from unionized Ypsilanti High School faculty. WCC administrators sought to offer high school students courses which would be non-transferable and worth no college credit.

Michelle Garey is the chair of the WCC foreign language department.

“I was asked to participate in this initiative not by the Vice President of Student Affairs,” Garey said in May. She was “asked to create non-transferable high school courses, she said, that would be available to high school freshman and sophomores and would not count for any type of college credit,” according to The Washtenaw Voice student newspaper.

Such a community partnerhip could violate the Michigan Department of Education’s requirements regarding teacher certification, as well as the WCC Board of Trustee’s policy on dual enrollment.

How WCC Budget Cuts Impact Students

The average cost of one year of study at a community college last year was over $14,000, including tuition, books and housing. Over 60 percent of students at two-year public colleges graduate without debt, according to data from the College Board. About 40 percent of WCC students receive financial aid—roughly half of which consists of student loans.

In 2008, according to the College Board, 80 percent of community college students did not receive financial aid equivalent to their need. Since 2008, the need gap has widened and the result has been a $1.2 trillion pile of U.S. student debt.

Washtenaw Community College students collected over $15 million in Pell Grants last year. The average Pell Grant award to a community college student was $1,700. Federal grants and loans represent a significant portion of the $26 million in tuition and $6 million in fees collected from WCC students in the 2013-2014 academic year.

The 30 percent cut to student aid and student services provided by WCC means more student debt. Students, however, are not the only people paying more. County taxpayers pay $345 per $100,000 in taxable home value to support Washtenaw Community College, a tax that increases as home values rise.

In return President Bellanca’s institution has graduated just five percent of enrolled students in two years and 15 percent of students in three years.

WCC students who do not graduate can find themselves saddled with debt and no degree. The average debt load at a public two-year institution is $7,000, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The 40 percent of community college students who do graduate with debt can owe upwards of $20,000 and even as much as $40,000, according to data gathered by the College Board.

The average cost of their degrees to students who did graduate with a degree from WCC was $31,704.

In comparison, at Alpena Community College 30.4 percent of students graduate at a cost of $36,371 per degree completion.

Under Dr. Bellanca’s leadership, county property tax payers give over $3,800 per student enrolled (12,000), but that cost jumps to $25,500 per degree completion (1,800). In comparison, at Alpena Community College the cost to property tax payers per degree completion (597) is $4,340 and the cost to county property tax payers per student enrolled (1,991) is $1,301.

Belt-Tightening: WCC Prez P-Card Review

When asked about the long-term financial future of WCC, VP of Finance William Johnson was recently quoted as saying: “Two and a half years ago, the winds were changing.” Johnson said enrollment declines have had major financial consequences and he went on to say that “Washtenaw Community College is not expecting the decline to stop.”

In short, WCC officials expect the college to continue its belt-tightening. There has been criticism from Rose Bellanca’s faculty and staff that the college’s president is a profligate spender who spares no expense when it comes to herself.

Criticisms begin with the $400,000 spent on an overhaul of Bellanca’s office suite.

The Ann Arbor Independent chose a random 90 day period—April-June 2014— and using FOIA obtained Dr. Bellanca’s P-Card records for that period. The document returned to the paper included explanations of charges (such as a $2,873.60 meal at Vinology charged on June 20, 2014), as well as claims that in seven instances Dr. Bellana reimbursed the college for improper and “erroneous” use of her P-Card.

One month later, we used FOIA to obtain a copy of the  college’s P-Card Master Statement for the month of April 2014. There was a slight discrepancy in amounts ($52) between the two April 2014 P-Card statements provided to the newspaper.

We contacted the college’s spokeswoman, Susan Ferraro multiple times for an explanation of the discrepancy. None was provided.

While Dr. Bellanca is by no means the highest paid community college leader in the U.S., she is the fifth highest paid community college president among the state’s 28 community college leaders.

In April 2014, she used her P-Card to charge $8,384.54 worth of goods and services. Of that amount, $2,378.97 was spent on meals out. That’s more than three times the $697.50 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says a family of four  on a tight budget spends on food each month.

In one of the two statements provided to The A2 Indy, college officials noted that Dr. Bellanca had used her P-Card to pay for the costs of a June 2014 Washtenaw Community College Foundation event (the Foundation is a 501(c)3 charity associated with WCC). That money, The Ann Arbor Independent was told, “would be” reimbursed to the college by the foundation.

The current cost of taking 9 credit hours at WCC is priced at $837. During an April 2014 trip to Washington, DC, Dr. Bellanca spent $142 on a meal at Ristorante La Perla. The next day, she spent $868.15 on a meal at New Heights Restaurant, where a mixed green salad is $10 and pan-seared scallops cost $25. During that DC trip, Dr. Bellanca also spent $352.22 for a meal at Giovanni’s Trattu in Dupont Circle and over $1,745 at her DC hotel.

While on a trip to Chicago  a few days later that same month, Dr. Bellanca spent $1,155 to stay at a Hyatt.

The college’s per diem policy states, “Meals for local events/seminars will be covered by the College at the IRS established per diem. The cost of alcoholic beverages will not be reimbursed.   Groceries and incidental costs will also not be reimbursed.  The College uses the per diem rate established by the IRS, which is currently $39 ($6 Breakfast, $10 Lunch, and $23 Dinner).”

Records showed two charges in June 2014 at the Ann Arbor City Club—one for $630 and one for $340. Between April and June, taxpayers paid for Dr. Bellanca to have meals at local Ann Arbor restaurants including Carson’s, Gandy Dancer, Paesano’s (four times), Quartino’s Weber’s and Cafe Zola.

She also used her WCC P-Card to pay for a $78 manicure at the Nail Studio of Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights, Mich. Records indicate on July 3, 2014 Dr. Bellanca reimbursed WCC for that “erroneous” June 21 charge for services.

In addition to Dr. Bellanca’s P-Card records, The A2 Indy used FOIA to obtain the Master Statement P-Card records of her Assistant, Vanessa Brooks, for the month of April 2014. Ms. Brooks charged $1,585.52. Of that amount, there was a total of $335 in two charges for flowers, $45 for Jimmy John’s and a $165.83 charge for a limousine.

There was also a $124.99 charge for First Choice Coffee Services. That company, located in Troy, Mich., trucks in gourmet coffee, tea, hot chocolate and filtered water to its customers monthly.

The Ann Arbor Independent also used FOIA to obtain the P-Card records of one of Dr. Bellanca’s Vice Presidents, in order to compare the use of the college’s P-Cards by the President and another high-level employee. We chose VP Dr. Michelle K. Mueller, Associate Vice President of Economic & Community Development. We also obtained the P-Card records of Dr. Mueller’s Assistant, Veronica Faulkner.

Ms. Faulkner charged $474.19 to her P-Card in May 2014. Half of those charges were to Staples and three were to Meijer’s.

Dr. Mueller made four charges in May totalling $409.52. Of that amount, $348.35 was paid to an Ann Arbor caterer, Fabulous Food Inc.

In April, Dr. Mueller used her P-Card to pay for a $46.84 charge at Real Seafood Company in Ann Arbor. She was asked to reimburse the college for that non-reimbursable charge.

It is clear from the records provided by the college that Dr. Bellanca’s spending on gourmet beverages trucked in from Troy, a limousine, hundreds of dollars worth of flowers, meals out costing hundreds of dollars each and stays at four-star hotels are incongruous to the cost-saving measures imposed on the college’s faculty, staff and students in the most recent and past budgets.

It’s not difficult to imagine how news of such spending spread among the college’s staff and faculty or to understand why it is causing  anger and  resentment.

“Rose Bellanca is tightening the budgetary belt around everyone’s neck except her own,” said a source at WCC concerned by the high rate of staff turnover and atmosphere of alleged hostility and retaliation against those who speak out. 

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3 Comments for “At Community College, President’s Pay, Perks and P-Card Charges Have Faculty Up In Arms”

  1. As a former Board member of WCC Foundation, and a donor for multiple fundraising activities, I am saddened to hear of the challenges facing WCC and many community colleges. My sincere desire is to see WCC open up the lines of communication between the faculty, students and community to ensure the ongoing mission of the college is not compromised.

  2. I hope that Rose Bellanca leaves soon and WCC returns to the days of Gunder Myran and Larry Whitworth. Thanks for the detailed account of her actions as President.

  3. Rose Bellanca has been a disaster for Wcc. Everyone who knows anything about the college has been disappointed in Bellanca. People should not be hired on the race and gender cards. Lets have people hired because they are competent. Bellanca is not.

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