bill seeks to unplug ‘golden parachutes’ in public education | New
ALBANY — As the State University of New York conducts a nationwide search for a new chancellor, several lawmakers are pushing for a measure that would freeze exceptional severance payments paid to education administrators when their jobs end.
The move comes after SUNY trustees decided earlier this year to allow former Chancellor Jim Malatras to take a year off with pay, giving him $450,000 in public funds, payments matching what had been his Chancellor’s salary. This is a type of allowance often referred to as a “golden parachute”.
He was approved for Malatras although he and the administrators of the 64 campus system announced that he had resigned from his post.
“PAID NOT TO COME TO WORK”
Malatras, a longtime associate of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was hired in 2020 by directors with no open search for candidates. His severance package also included a tenured professorship for $186,000 a year at Empire State College, a branch of the SUNY system.
R-Orange County Sen. Mike Martucci, the legislation’s lead sponsor, said it was intended to protect taxpayers from being liable for exceptional payments to education administrators who are no longer employed in those roles. .
“I don’t believe that any public sector employee should be paid for not coming to work,” Martucci told CNHI.
Co-sponsors of the legislation include GOP Senate Leader Rob Ortt of R-Niagara County; and Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Otsego County.
The measure states: “Public administrators operating under individual contracts should not be allowed to collect massive payments in the event of their resignation or dismissal. This is especially reprehensible when the circumstances that led to the termination of employment include suspicion of criminal or, at a minimum, unethical and unprofessional conduct. »
While GOP-backed bills face a rocky road in a Democratic-led legislature, SUNY’s handling of Malatras’ severance package has also raised concerns outside the legislature.
“Taxpayers should rightly expect that people working in public institutions will not receive massive payments for work not done or as a contractual clause if this employment agreement does not work out,” said Jennifer Freeman, spokeswoman for State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat. .
Freeman noted that the comptroller’s office pushed SUNY to take a hard look at its payroll practices and provide justification for additional pay and benefits.
“Taxpayers and the public deserve full transparency and accountability,” she said.
Paul Rodriguez, Republican candidate for state comptroller, said the comptroller’s office in such cases should use its influence to audit contracts and sound the alarm when questionable payments are issued.
After lawmakers expanded the comptroller’s office’s oversight of SUNY contracts, Rodriguez said, “There’s no excuse now for not looking at the terms of those contracts in greater depth and really exerting influence on the way they are structured”.
In response to questions from CNHI about whether severance will be included in the next Chancellor’s contract, SUNY spokeswoman Holly Liapis said, “SUNY offers competitive compensation similar to other public institutions. higher education in order to attract and retain the best talent. Chancellor appointments are negotiated individually.
Liapis added: “That said, it is common in higher education for Presidential appointees to receive a full professorship as well as study leave of up to a year as part of their pay. overall.”
U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik of R-Saratoga County noted that she was the first congresswoman from the state to demand Malatras’ resignation, adding that she would monitor the SUNY employment program for its next chancellor. .
“That includes standing up for hard-working New Yorkers so that their taxpayers’ hard-earned money doesn’t line the pockets of corrupt political figures with golden parachutes,” Stefanik said.
David Bloomfield, a professor of educational leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, said SUNY administrators’ decision to hire Malatras in the first place “was a situation that combines political patronage and standard employment practices in higher education.”
As for the severance package, “one would hope it was a negotiated arm’s length package, but in the case of Malatras, I don’t think it was at arm’s length,” being given that Malatras was a close ally of Cuomo, whose administration wielded strong influence over the trustees.
In a comment published in the New York Daily News, Bloomfield said: “The terms of Malatras’ exit contract, negotiated in secret and adopted by the board without public debate, are a staggering waste of taxpayers’ money. and violate the procedural standards for appointing professors. He denounced the arrangement for Malatras as “a conflicted lovers’ agreement”.
The outrage was also expressed in a scathing editorial in the Schenectady Daily Gazette:
“College tenure is normally reserved for faculty of exemplary scholarship and longevity, and not as compensation for being forced out of your patronage job,” its editorial said.
SUNY announced in March that it had retained the services of a consulting firm — Isaacson, Miller — to help it search for chancellor candidates.