If there’s a financial crisis at Erie Community College, as certainly appears the case, there’s no sign of it if you take a look at the salaries at the college headed by President Jack Quinn at $192,500 even though he spends many days away from the institution on outside paying assignments as far away as California.
The recent state audit of ECC told the story of unauthorized pay raises and bonuses handed out by the Quinn regime to senior staff even as the burden of carrying the college was being shifted to students with a steady diet of tuition hikes and another looming in the coming year.
But let’s pause in the wake of that scathing state audit and look at some recent numbers, even though they may not fully reflect all the raises and bonuses handed out over the last few years in secret and without board approval.
Quinn tops the list, of course, at $192,500, but not far behind is Quinn’s former Washington congressional aide, Michael Pietkiewicz, senior vice president for operations, who earns a whopping $140,000 or $67 per hour, for a position many say he is academically unqualified to hold.
But that’s only the top of the list of high paid staffers. Third on the list is Bill Reuter, chief administrative and financial officer, at $135,000. Richard Washousky, the executive vice president for academic affairs, earns $120,360, followed by Kristin Klein Wheaton, the vice president for legal affairs, who was earning $117,300 before resigning recently after the blistering state audit singled her out for not providing state auditors the phone numbers of board members. Wheaton in fact had been running the college, poorly according to the state audit and many insiders at the college, for the often absent Quinn. She fought hard with state auditors in an effort clearly designed to head off a negative review that would reflect poorly on Quinn. She lost.
Another big salary is the $117,300 paid to Benjamin Packer, the executive vice president for student affairs, while two other staffers, associate tech vice president Joseph Stewart, and associate vice president for health sciences Patrick Wiles each are paid at the rate of $53 an hour, or put another way, $109,242. There are eight other senior staffers who earn at least $90,000 at ECC which has a payroll that looks like the patronage-fat Erie County Water Authority, only rate payers foot the bill for the bloated Water Authority payroll while much of the burden at ECC is falling on the backs of students as the declining enrollment can’t carry the big salaries although they are still there.
We’re still waiting for a formal response on the audit from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz who had been expected to have something to say last week about his plans for the college in the wake of the blistering review, but so far Poloncarz has not issued anything. The legislature went easy on the ECC regime after Wheaton resigned although the problems at the institution run far deeper than her. We did report last week that some insiders expect the county to absorb the $500,000 legal empire that Wheaton had established at ECC to deal with numerous lawsuits against the college although so far, Poloncarz has been silent.
The ECC board is putting together a response to the state audit that is expected by April about the time early numbers for the ECC budget plan for the coming year are due with insiders saying another tuition hike is inevitable.
Meanwhile, Quinn goes on his merry way, earning the highest public salary in Western New York even as the college he heads sinks further into crisis. What is it that protects Quinn? Many wonder how he has managed to hold onto his job despite the problems and the lack of transparency and accountability identified by state auditors. Board Chairman Steve Boyd is expected to depart in June and the question is, on many people’s minds, is will Quinn follow him out the door in the near future.