Opinion: College district stuck with two very expensive chancellors

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

Facts are slowly beginning to emerge about the decision by the board of the San Mateo County Community College District to remove longtime Chancellor Ron Galatolo.

Last week, the board put out a pleasant sounding press release saying he was stepping down to become the chancellor emeritus of the three-college district.

From reading the release, you’d think he was going into semi-retirement. The title “emeritus” is commonly given to professors who retire but are allowed to retain their title as an honor.

But now Galatolo’s new employment agreement has been posted on the district’s website because the board will be voting to approve it on Wednesday (Aug 21). It contains some startling provisions.

First, Galatolo’s new contract shows that he will get $38,975 a month (or $467,700 a year) to serve as chancellor emeritus. That’s what he was making as chancellor.

His replacement, at least on an interim basis, will be College of San Mateo President Mike Claire, whose pay will be in the same ballpark.

Two expensive chancellors

So the district is stuck with two very expensive chancellors, each costing the district half-a-million or more a year when you include benefits.

Galatolo is leaving with more than two years on his old contract.

Since his new contract is described as a “negotiated” agreement, I’m wondering if the negotiation went something like this.

Board of directors: You’re fired. Leave now.

Galatolo: But I have a contract that runs through 2021. I’m entitled to that money. I’m calling my lawyer.

Board: OK, we’ll remove you from your job but will pay you what you would have received under your contract.

And, just to keep the public from catching on, both sides agree to send out a cheerful press release saying he would become chancellor emeritus.

Stay away

But Item 2 in the contract states that he won’t be going to the district office anymore. “Employee shall perform his duties from a home office or other remote office,” the contract says.

I guess he’s losing his parking space.

As chancellor emeritus, Galatolo has been given the job of developing a CSU program at Canada College. State Sen. Jerry Hill and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin have obtained $1 million to do a feasibility study about opening a CSU branch at Canada in Redwood City.

But the board set no benchmarks for Galatolo in his new contract regarding the CSU branch, which leads me to believe it’s a “make work” job. They don’t care what he does or else they would have given him some goals and written it like a real personnel contract. When it comes to a feasibility study, the actual work will probably be farmed out to a consultant to write a report.

Judge named to settle future disputes

If you’re curious about how the negotiations to remove Galatolo went, go to Item 15 of the contract. It lays out a procedure the board has to follow if it intends to fire him for cause as emeritus chancellor. “The matter shall be presented to Honorable Richard A. Kramer, judge of the Superior Court (retired).” It says Kramer will decide if Galatolo is to be removed, and he will have the final say.

Wow, it’s as if they’re already preparing for another fight and have picked the judge who will decide the case.

But after the emeritus contract expires in March 2022, Galatolo is finished with the district. Item 14 says the emeritus contract cannot be renewed or extended.

Why did the board remove him? Given the district’s penchant for secrecy, we may never know. There are a couple of incidents that are on the record.

There’s the time he charged a $100 bottle of wine to the district. But after that came to light, some board members actually defended him.

Then there was the botched sale of KCSM-TV. The district had a chance to sell the station’s bandwidth in an FCC auction for $114 million. But a district administrator didn’t submit a bid with the FCC at the required time, and the district got nothing. Galatolo kept the bad news from the board and the public for six months.

You’d think that keeping a mistake of that size from your board would be an immediate firing offense. But a few months later the board gave Galatolo a raise and a new contract.

No transparency

What happened this time is a mystery.

But the public has a right to know what triggered his removal. It may be the result of a major problem in the district. Perhaps the board didn’t manage him properly.

Whatever mistake was made, the board needs to reveal it publicly so that it isn’t repeated in the future.

This isn’t a private business. It’s a public institution, and the board is accountable to the public. No more flowery press releases, just tell us the truth.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

7 Comments

    • Educators *are* underpaid (especially shameful for adjunct and those at the K-12 level). He is an administrator, though, and most at that level make a commensurate amount. I agree with Price–just tell us the truth!

  1. Another article notes issues with construction contracts and possible vendor funding of promotion of bonds. These kinds of PACs are common on the Peninsula. I learned this working at an architecture firm. And I often wondered why so much work was not RFP’d on the SMCCCD website compared to other college districts. I even asked an employee there if there was already a pre-qualified pool of vendors or somesuch. I’d look to the facilities and building department for some practices that are not considered best practice.

  2. we second that, please look into the facilities / building department and “the practices”. Are the faculty consulted in what and how these buildings are being constructed and what is needed for their classrooms and their students? Or Does it look like a good old boys club making all the decision? Bring back the plumbing, electrical, landscaping, and other building trades as part of the education and learning environment. How cool would that be to have students learn a trade while building their colleges, our community colleges, plus earning an education and a paycheck!

  3. People often compare the “success” of San Mateo with the “problems” of City College of San Francisco. They are funded very differently, which can account, to some extend, for such dramatic differences. CCSF is funded, like most CA community colleges, by “apportionment,” that is, they get a portion of state funds based on enrollment. The incentive is to get more students into seats, though the new Student Centered Funding Formula also rewards access for low-income students and student success metrics. Given funding based on enrollment, these colleges are susceptible to the “counter cyclical” nature of enrollment and the economy – as the economy improves, students go back to work and enrollment goes down – therefore, funding goes down. Thus, these institutions can’t rely on a stable levels of funding, which makes planning difficult. In contrast, San Mateo is “basic aid,” which means it does not rely on enrollment, but is funded by local property taxes. Given that the San Mateo District is in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, with stable and increasing property taxes, its funding is dramatically different from CCSF. As a faculty member at San Mateo once said, “We are so well funded, we don’t worry about money.” Perhaps that is why they can afford a Chancellor and Emeritus Chancellor with combined salaries of $1 million, plus benefits. “Emeritus” status in academia is usually an honorarium for a retiree, without compensation. Of course, you can’t blame them for these great deals. The elected Board of Trustees has authority for contracts.

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