When the New College of Florida board of trustees approved a contract for Richard Corcoran to serve as interim president, some members of the public said his $699,000 salary seemed high.
Now, some leaders at the Sarasota school are questioning where the money will come from.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that board members for the New College Foundation expressed concern at a meeting Friday that the organization won’t have enough funds to help pay Corcoran, the former state education commissioner who also served as Florida House speaker.
Under Florida law, only $200,000 of a university president’s salary can come from state funds. The remainder must come from private sources, and schools typically turn to their foundations for that money.
In addition to his salary, Corcoran’s contract calls for a $104,850 retirement supplement, an annual performance bonus of up to $104,850, a housing stipend of $84,000 and a $12,000 car allowance.
But that kind of money may not be available in the foundation’s accounts, according to the Herald-Tribune report, which quoted the foundation board’s finance chairperson, Larry Geimer.
Geimer said 99 percent of foundation funds came with restrictions on what they could be used for, and that the foundation and board of trustees were not in communication about what could be used to pay Corcoran.
“There’s been a huge miscommunication issue between the board and the foundation,” Geimer said, according to the Herald-Tribune report. “In the past the board would come to the foundation, like with (former President Patricia Okker), and say: ‘Here’s what we’re proposing for a salary. Can you fund the additional dollars over the $200,000 from the foundation?’ That meeting was held, that meeting was agreed to. But this did not occur this time.”
Geimer declined to be interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times on Friday.
His account, as reported by the Herald-Tribune, conflicts with remarks this past week by New College board of trustees chairperson Debra Jenks. At a special meeting Tuesday, she assured fellow trustees and the public that the foundation funds were available.
Jenks, a Palm Beach County lawyer, is one of six conservative trustees appointed to the board on Jan. 6 by Gov. Ron DeSantis with a mandate to transform the progressive school. She could not immediately be reached for comment.
Grace Keenan, the student member of the New College board of trustees, cast the lone vote against Corcoran’s contract on Tuesday. She cited the size of his salary and unanswered questions about where the funds would come from.
“It’s been incredibly difficult — way too difficult as a trustee of the college and someone who’s going to be voting on his contract,” Keenan said. “We didn’t get any sort of documentation in the last meeting whether or not the foundation did have the funds. (No) written documentation sent to us, or any sort of financial records or budgets.”
According to Keenan’s calculations, the school would either need to take funds from its endowment or from a $4 million gift for student mental health.
Corcoran’s contract was approved by the state Board of Governors on Wednesday, with two dissenting votes. The board’s faculty representative and former Republican House Speaker Jose Oliva voted against it.
Oliva clarified that he had no issue with Corcoran but felt the board needed greater oversight on contracts moving forward.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that, when Corcoran starts as interim president on Monday, his salary will place him near the top of the pay scale among his peers at other schools. As the leader of Florida’s smallest public university with fewer than 700 students, Corcoran will have the third-highest president’s salary in the system.
His pay also will stand out among small liberal arts schools across the country that are considered comparable by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Corcoran’s base salary is $400,000 more than that of his predecessor, Patricia Okker, who was ousted last month by the DeSantis-appointed board.
Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.