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Mystery math: How much do CSU bigwigs make? (Orange County Register)
June 20, 2012
by Teri Sforza, Register staff writer
Anyone who has tried to nail down the pay of a public official may well know what it feels like to try to trap a wave upon the sand.
What is reported on, say, a city’s web site can be substantially different from what’s reported on, say, the state controller’s web site, or from what, say, busybodies like us at The Watchdog compute.
Mostly, that’s because different folks include different things in the compensation calculation. But sometimes it’s much more complicated than even that, and when you ask officialdom to explain, you get the cold shoulder silent treatment.
Ask rabble-rousing state Sen. Leland Yee.
“CSU FAILS TO FULLY DISCLOSE COMPENSATION OF TOP EXECUTIVES,” said a release from Yee’s office last week. “University officials refuse to answer inquiries, say it’s unnecessary to respond to public scrutiny.”
Yee had been scratching his head over how much top California State University administrators made. “According to independent reports, there are major compensation discrepancies when comparing IRS filings (Form 990) to records at the State Controller’s office and what CSU discloses on their website or in public records requests,” Yee’s release said. “In several cases, top administrators appear to be receiving tens of thousands of dollars more than what is being disclosed by the university.”
For example, CSU said:
-Los Angeles campus president in had total compensation of $325,000, while the state controller showed $372,461 and IRS records showed$515,612.
-Sacramento campus president’s had total comp of $295,000, while the state controller showed $351,541 salary and the IRS records said $429,244.
- San Francisco campus president made $298,749, while the controller said $356,366 and the IRS records said $423,536.
-chancellor made $421,500, while the controller reported $399,326 and IRS records said $488,827.
Its vice chancellor for university relations earned $240,000, while the controller said $274,694 and IRS records said $295,007.
In March, Yee and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino asked CSU to explain. After several requests, Yee’s office received an email from an assistant vice chancellor that said, “Not sure we felt it was necessary to respond to the ongoing and never ending critical communications,’” according to Yee’s release.
This did not make Yee happy.
“The CSU administration needs to stop hiding and come clean,” said Yee in a prepared statement. “While they may not like the public scrutiny into their executive pay practices, they have a responsibility to the students and taxpayers of California to be fully transparent.”
Yee threatened that if CSU continued to dodge inquiries, he would call a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on California’s Public Records and Open Meeting Laws, which he chairs. “They simply do not have the right to use tax dollars as their own private piggy bank,” he said in the statement.
Of course, we asked CSU what it had to say about all this. Officials told us they would be responding to Yee in writing, and we were forwarded a copy of the letter sent the legislators from CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed.
“A recent ‘report’ cited in your letter has suggested that we do not fully report all compensation,” it says. “This is incorrect. Consistent with compensation reports by the state senate, state assembly and other state agencies, these compensation reports do not include additional benefit contributions for retirement; health, dental and vision insurance; and life insurance. The “findings” that we were not reporting all compensation is not one of hiding anything but merely the difference between the standard reporting all state agencies do as compared to requirements by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for other purposes.
“Each campus foundation files a 990 form including information regarding director and officers’ salaries. This form asks for estimated compensation data for directors, officers and key employees from related party organizations. The manner and detail in how the IRS requests related party compensation has been evolving over the past five years and CSU auxiliary organizations have answered these questions to the best of their understanding of the instructions. Unlike the public compensation disclosures that are common across California state agencies, the IRS 990 Form includes the non-taxable benefit contribution categories of retirement; health, dental and vision insurance; and life insurance.”
But there was a straight-out error in reporting the CSU-LA head honcho’s pay.
“In 2009, the California State University, Los Angeles Foundation reported $380,666 in base compensation ($314,090.92 salary plus the taxable housing benefit of $60,000, $1,631.40 for the imputed value of the personal use of a state vehicle, and $4,944 for the imputed value of $50,000 in life insurance) and $134,946 in non-taxable benefits including retirement, health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, life insurance and long term disability insurance. The $134,946 was erroneously calculated. The actual value of non-taxable benefit was $52,475.10 to CalPERS for retirement, $5,662.44 for health insurance, $525.60 for dental insurance, $109.56 for vision insurance, $501.00 for life insurance, and $145.99 for long term disability insurance for a total of $59,419.69. The combined total should have been reported as $440,086.01. Obviously if we reported this same information for all of our employees including faculty and staff there would be a marked increased in compensation for each and every employee reflecting their non-taxable benefits as well.
“All public agencies we know of report compensation in the same manner we do, and do not include the calculated costs associated with benefits as noted above. The misinformation given this spring was unfortunate as it created confusion for you and misled the public. We have taken steps to make sure our campuses have clearer direction on their reporting to eliminate future misunderstandings. We hope you would agree that moving ahead we should also take a careful look at such reports to clarify the facts and confirm their validity before taking them for fact.”
For all its big wigs, CSU reports salary, benefits, housing and car allowances during public sessions on the hiring of those leaders by the CSU Board of Trustees, it said. Changes made by and approved by the chancellor are reported to the board and the public in an annual report presented at a regularly noticed board meeting as well as posted on our website on an ongoing basis, it said.