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New College Foundation Rubber Stamps Corcoran’s bonus

Written by on Saturday, April 27, 2024

Funding approval comes despite board members’ worries about the potential misallocation of restricted funds.


By Florence Fahringer

Original Air Date: Apr. 26, 2024

Host: New College President Richard Corcoran recently got a $200,000 bonus from the board of trustees. This is on top of the over $1 million annual pay the trustees have already promised him. The catch? New College can’t legally pay most of that salary, so it falls on the New College Foundation to cover the biggest share. Reporter Florence Fahringer attended the foundation’s board meeting last week, and she heard concern even by members of the finance committee. Concern or not, the board passed next year’s budget.

Amy Reid: Has anyone consulted with the Foundation about whether or not they have sufficient funds?

Bill Galvano: Yes, that was an issue that had come up earlier, and so I confirmed that the Foundation does have the funds and has set these funds aside. 

Florence Fahringer: That was Faculty Trustee Amy Reid at the New College of Florida Board meeting on April eleventh of this year, and New College Counsel Bill Galvano’s response. The agenda item the board was discussing was $200,000 in incentive compensation for New College President Richard Corcoran. This incentive compensation was outlined in his employment contract with the college; it’s something the Board of Trustees could pay Corcoran annually should they find his progress towards specific goals satisfactory. Evidently, a majority of the trustees did find his performance during the past year satisfactory, as they overwhelmingly voted to approve this additional compensation.

Corcoran’s employment contract calls for a salary of $700,000, but through additional benefits such as this annual incentive compensation, Corcoran can expect at least $1.3 million a year — more than four times the salary of his predecessor. The problem is, Florida law dictates that only two hundred thousand dollars can be paid to a public university president using public funds.

As such, the Board of Trustees put a significant burden of Corcoran’s compensation on the New College Foundation. The foundation is the fundraising arm of the college, its purpose is to seek funding from things like public state and federal grants, or from private individuals, such as New College alumni, in order to further the mission of the college. The key concern here is that the foundation raises funds from both public and private sources. The public funds are often restricted, which means they are given to the college on the condition that they only be put towards specific things, such as scholarships or construction; these restricted funds are not known to go towards presidential salaries.

The takeover of New College’s board of trustees was echoed soon after in the foundation’s board of directors. In the months following the takeover, the foundation board saw an eighty percent turnover, while foundation staff was entirely replaced. Of the twenty-five board members from before the takeover, only four remain.

All that leads us to the New College Foundation board meeting last week, where the foundation was expected to address the questions concerning how they would find the money to pay for Corcoran’s salary, and if they could find it, where it would come from. First to speak were the public commenters, the last public commenter being Brian Cody, a new college alumnus and former member of the foundation board.

Brian Cody: So it looks like the foundation is giving $1.8 million in restricted funds, but there’s only $1.1 million of college uses that seem to match those restrictions, leaving potentially $700,000 of restricted funds being used for other potentially not appropriate purposes. 

I’m requesting board members please ask questions at today’s meeting about this gap. You’re potentially voting today on approving funds intended for scholarships and other restricted, specific uses, being diverted to paying for presidential salaries, athletics, and lobbyists. If you still aren’t clear after discussion today, please make a motion. It would be very reasonable to table the budget until you have a more detailed breakdown of the Section E restrictions for example. 

I think that by demonstrating care and executing your fiduciary responsibility today with the $1.8 million for scholarships and enhancements, you can also help rebuild trust with alum donors. I think more alums will give to things like the student research and travel grants in the future, if they see you asking questions and being answered, and that donor intent is being respected with care. 

FF: Cody’s worries about alumni participation proved right. Later in the meeting, Executive Director Sydney Gruters gave a presentation on the past year of fundraising.

Sydney Gruters

Sydney Gruters: Participation rate among alumni has been shutting down since FY 2019. There’s no denying, it went even further down this year. However, I have a report that our average gift amount is up, and we are $501,326.

This is a graph of alumni participation rate I thought you all might like to see, through the years. The red line is the amounts; the blue line is the number of alumni … So it’s pretty self explanatory there. 

FF: The graph depicted a steep decline in alumni participation in the year since the takeover of the college. In 2022, about 500 alumni donated a total of just under half a million dollars. In 2023, the number of participating alumni had dropped to just 33, though the amount they donated between themselves was actually about $40,000 more than in the year previous. That’s a whopping 94% drop in alumni participation, with the average donation per alumnus going from $900 to $15,000. A much smaller and much wealthier cohort of alumni were buoying this portion of the foundation’s budget.

Soon after Gruters’ presentation came the finance committee’s update, from foundation treasurer Larry Geimer. He gave a number for the amount of foundation money budgeted towards the presidential salary for the next fiscal year: $900,000. These $900,000 fell under a “college support budget,” whose actuals for the past fiscal year had been elusive.

Larry Geimer: What’s missing down at the bottom, if you flip to the back side, and you see there, the fiscal ‘25 versus fiscal ‘24 budgets, at the very bottom is the college support budget. Last year versus this year, the budget was [unintelligible] million, next year the budget will be at 3.3, which are … huge numbers, substantial numbers, and we do not have those expenses here today. I have requested those, and I wanna make sure those get out to everyone as soon as possible, because those are very material numbers and we need to know exactly where we stand. 

FF: The mystery of college support budget expenses fit into a broader theme of frustration from the finance committee.

LG: Essentially we’ve been flying blind all year from the finance committee standpoint. We’re used to having monthly financials, the board would see the quarterly financials, and we have not had those all year. So, it’s no way for us to operate.

Adam has seen the larger checks, he’s signed those. I’ve signed some of those in the past, so I would have a feel for where the larger checks were going. This year, Adam’s been on campus more; he’s been able to sign those. So, I wasn’t seeing those numbers either.

We requested a review of the funds to determine exactly what’s restricted and what’s unrestricted. The auditors made a lot of progress on that, but they were not able to finalize that because there was not support found for all of the funds, they were found for most of the funds, so there’s still research going on in that regard. 

This year, financials were delayed awaiting the audit report, and I’d make a request that that never ever be done again. There may be changes that might result from an audit, but monthly operations, monthly financials should never be delayed while you’re waiting for an audit to conclude, which’ll hopefully prove that your numbers are right. The finance committee’s hands are tied without information, to [unintelligible] asked questions about.

FF: Addressing Brian Cody’s concerns directly, Geimer said that the restrictiveness of the funding was also being investigated by the audit. Following his update, one board member took heed of Cody’s concerns and recommendations, expressing discomfort with passing this budget. Board Chair Adam Kendall had a different interpretation of the board’s duties.

Adam Kendall: We heard some issues earlier about if we wanna abstain, if we don’t want to pass this budget, we have a motion and a second and we’ll call to question in a moment … How does it make us appear as a foundation? Did we do our fiduciary responsibility? Do we actually understand what we’re doing here? Because, in the past, my understanding is a lot of things got rubber stamped, and I think we’re seeing now things aren’t being rubber stamped anymore. 

We’re asking good, articulate questions. And I think it’s to the benefit of all of us to ask these questions. But it’s also to our benefit to understand that we have committees that have vetted these processes, that have looked at the numbers, that are supposed to be our designated experts. They have approved this budget as presented. They made modifications during the course of the meeting, you have the minutes to review. And … we have a motion, and a second, I’m open to further discussion, but I just wanted to make sure that everyone was clear on … we’re going into areas and we’re getting questions from the public that don’t necessarily pertain to the ongoing day-to-day operation of what passing this budget means. 

FF: After a lengthy back-and-forth between concerned board members and their unconcerned colleagues, Kendall insisted on a motion to approve the budget. The motion passed, crystallizing the budget for the foundation’s upcoming fiscal and academic year, while leaving the question open as to whether or not the foundation would be taking money meant for the betterment of campus and the student body, and giving it to president Corcoran. We tried to reach the foundation and New College spokesman Nathan March for further clarification about the budget, but there was no response before deadline.

This is Florence Fahringer, reporting for WSLR News.

 

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