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The head of Fresno’s community colleges just got a pay raise. And tuition is rising

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Brian Speece, with State Center Community College District at Fresno City College, talks about the need to replace the crowded, aging and outdated Math and Science Building.
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Brian Speece, with State Center Community College District at Fresno City College, talks about the need to replace the crowded, aging and outdated Math and Science Building.

The head of community colleges in Fresno received a pay raise that will eventually bump his salary to $321,421 per year, months after supporting a tuition increase for out-of-state students.

State Center Community College District Chancellor Paul Parnell will get a 6 percent raise effective July 1, 2018 and another 6 percent next year, “contingent upon the Chancellor receiving a satisfactory evaluation for the 2018-19 year.”

Parnell also had 1.5 percent added to his paycheck retroactively from last July, and received an additional one-time bonus payment of 1.5 percent.

The district’s trustees approved the increases in a 5-1-1 vote, with Trustee Miguel Arias voting no and Trustee Eric Payne abstaining.

Trustee Bobby Kahn said the district was acting on the advice of its human resources department, which has found it difficult to attract candidates to the Central Valley.

“They’ve told us there are job applicants who may not want to live here, especially if our compensation is below the average,” Kahn said. “We want the best and brightest for our students, and then we want to retain them.”

Kahn said the district looked at comparable salaries for heads of community college districts in the San Joaquin Valley, as well as the entire state, and found that Parnell was making less than the median.

Parnell’s salary and benefits totaled $275,000 per year in 2016. Kahn said the median salary calculated by the board was $300,000.

Kahn added that he felt Parnell had earned his raise, having received satisfactory reviews from the board since taking the job in 2015.

Arias disagreed. He cited major pending issues facing the district — an IRS audit and a gender discrimination lawsuit — as two reasons Parnell did not deserve the raise he got.

“He earned a pay adjustment, but he did not earn the exorbitant amount he asked for,” Arias said.

Chancellor Parnell Color
Paul Parnell is chancellor of the State Center Community College District. Milne Photograpy courtesy State Center Community College District

Merit aside, public officials in the Central Valley can’t expect to earn as much as their counterparts in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, according to Arias, due to the lower cost of living here.

“We have students who are working two jobs to afford tuition,” Arias said. “And we just approved an increase that affects DREAMers and student athletes. This is not in the best interest of our students.”

The board approved a tuition increase for out-of-state students in January that raised the cost per unit by $24.

Parnell said at the time that the district hadn’t increased tuition for this group in years.

Arias, Payne voice disagreement

Arias said his vehement opposition to the proposal stemmed from the fact that the district recently renegotiated the way it handles staff salary increases, eliminating a Me Too clause that mandated that if one person got a raise, everyone else in the salary class would, too.

Parnell’s retroactive payment was based on a staff salary increase that went into effect last year.

“That’s what really got under my skin, that he would ask for that Me Too payment,” Arias said. “And when he recommends his staff for raises, he asks for less than he asked for for himself.”

“I expect our chancellor to lead by example, and this struck me as a selfish request,” Arias said.

Parnell’s new salary means he makes more than almost anyone else in a comparable position in the Valley, according to Arias, including Fresno Unified superintendent Bob Nelson, who takes home $295,000. Arias is FUSD’s spokesman.

As superintendent, Nelson oversees a billion-dollar budget and 74,000 enrolled students. SCCCD’s budget is about $180 million in general funds and another $93 million in categorical funds. The district has approximately 50,000 students.

For another comparison, Fresno State president Joseph Castro made $431,856 in salary and benefits in 2016 — $314,655 of it in base pay.

Approving the new salary was “unconscionable,” according to Payne, who said the increase was too large for one person given the economy of the Valley.

Payne also said he wanted his fellow trustees to consider that they may have a new funding formula in the next few years.

The proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown would make community college funding look more like the formula currently in place for K-12 schools, tying some monies to how many low-income students the district enrolls.

Another proposal would place a salary cap on public executive’s salaries, so that no one could make more than the governor’s base pay of $195,803 per year.

District releases statement

District spokeswoman Lucy Ruiz sent a statement on behalf of Parnell and the district that said the chancellor’s salary is just below the state average.

“The philosophy of State Center Community College District is to pay all of its employees just above the average based on comparable positions throughout the Central Valley and the state,” the statement read.

Aleksandra Appleton, @aleksappleton, 559-341-3747
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