By Stacy St. Clair and Jodi S. Cohen
Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday signed into law a measure that restricts severance packages for community college presidents -- a move made in reaction to the pricey buyout deal awarded to the College of DuPage president this year.
The new law, effective immediately, prohibits boards from giving departing presidents more than one year of salary and benefits. It also limits standard contracts to four years and requires public notice and approval of any new, amended or renewed employment deals.
"Abuses of taxpayers that arose at the College of DuPage are now being transformed into serious reforms statewide," said Katharine Hamilton, chairwoman of the school's board of trustees. "With the stagnant economy that confronts our students, it is more important than ever that Illinois' community colleges focus on empowering students through education, not enriching administrators through outrageous contracts."
The limits come eight months after college trustees voted to give President Robert Breuder $763,000 to retire in March 2016, three years early.
The deal -- one of the largest severance packages for a public employee in state history -- is now being challenged by the current board majority, which voted last week to void Breuder's contract and severance deal.
Trustees also have voted to begin termination proceedings against Breuder, who remains on paid administrative leave pending the outcome.
His severance deal, shrouded in secrecy until the Tribune revealed the details, caused a firestorm in the western suburbs, where it came to symbolize lavish spending at the state's largest community college. The deal also did little to help Illinois' 48 community colleges as they battle proposed cuts in state funding.
Breuder, whose total compensation this year is about $495,000, was under contract until 2019, according to an agreement that was secretly changed by trustees over the years. Among other perks, Breuder received housing and car allowances, $10,000 a year for professional development and a membership at an exclusive hunting club.
The College of DuPage controversy prompted a flurry of legislative proposals aimed at punishing the school and preventing other taxing bodies from approving similar buyouts. The bill signed Tuesday was the first that lawmakers addressed.
"I hope this is just the first step toward reform," said state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a member of the search committee for the college's next president. "It sends a message that you can't get away with contract agreements that are disrespectful to taxpayers."
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