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State schools chief calls for Cal State salary freeze

Citing the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis, Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on Monday called on California State University to freeze compensation for top executives as it seeks to replace presidents at several campuses.

In a letter addressed to Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed and Board of Trustees chairman A. Robert Linscheid, Torlakson, also a trustee, expressed his opposition to the board’s decision last month to award 10% pay hikes to the incoming presidents at the Fullerton and East Bay campuses.

Torlakson did not attend that meeting.

Vacancies at six other campuses — California Maritime Academy, Dominguez Hills, Monterey Bay, San Bernardino, San Francisco and Stanislaus — are expected to be filled in coming months. Torlakson said he will propose an immediate salary freeze and suggested that positions be filled with candidates willing to accept the base pay of their predecessor.

“The students we serve and the public that supports our system enjoy no immunity from the consequences of the Great Recession, which has left millions without work and millions more working harder for less,” Torlakson said. “Why should those we select to lead our campuses be any different?”

Cal State has faced a barrage of criticism since trustees approved an annual salary of $400,000 — $350,000 in general funds and $50,000 from a campus foundation — for Elliot Hirshman, the new president of San Diego State at the same meeting last July at which tuition was increased by 12%. The salary was $100,000 more than what Hirshman’s predecessor made and prompted several lawmakers to propose legislation that would limit pay increases.

In response, the system adopted a new policy to cap the pay of executives at 10% above that of their predecessor, with a limit of $325,000 in public funds. But critics have faulted subsequent decisions to award incoming Fullerton President Mildred Garcia $324,500 — 10% more than predecessor Milton Gordon, who made $295,000 (Garcia also earned $295,000 as president of Cal State Dominguez Hills) — and Cal State East Bay President Leroy Morishita $303,660 — 10% more than predecessor Mohammad Qayoumi. Morishita had been earning $276,055 as interim president at the campus.

“This policy was designed to create a ceiling for compensation during a time of fiscal crisis,” Torlakson said. "Instead it appears that it is also being used as a floor.”

Torlakson noted that state funding for Cal State was cut by $750 million in the 2011-12 budget and could be cut an additional $200 million pending the outcome of a proposed tax initiative on the November ballot. Meanwhile, student tuition has risen more than 300% in the last decade while university leaders have announced an enrollment freeze for spring 2013 and a wait list for all applicants the following fall.

Cal State spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said it would be premature to freeze salaries based on those two cases.

“We have a policy that we think is valid, and we want for the time being to work under that policy,” Uhlenkamp said. “The policy establishes a limit but it doesn’t say that every individual is going to get the maximum. It does also address the issue of the state’s finances, but I don’t think the board is necessarily ready to establish a freeze on all salaries.”

Torlakson said he will raise the issue of a salary freeze at the board’s next scheduled meeting May 9.

--Carla Rivera

 
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