After learning that Delta College President/Superintendent Raul Rodriguez approved eight stipends for managers without the school's board of trustees' knowledge, the board members have formed a subcommittee to investigate if the school's policies have been violated by Rodriguez.
While two of the trustees, Steve Castellanos and Janet Rivera, said they were aware of the stipends, the extra wages that total over $94,000, the remaining five trustees only found out about it recently. The issue came to light during Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting.
Rodriguez said he has made approvals for stipends like this before without the board's direction as part of his day-to-day duties and believes it's within his authority to do so. He said he also does things like approve overtime for the Delta Police, custodians and special events workers without the board's OK. Rodriguez said he has that authority under the state Education Code and under Delta policy.
"These kind of things happen all the time. I am not doing anything illegal or violating policy," he said. "It's not been a secret. The process has been in place since before I got to Delta. It's not like anything I've invented."
Stipends like this are usually rare, but not unheard of, Rodriguez said. He said there are more now because of layoffs and cuts that have forced some staff managers to do large amounts of extra work. He estimates that he is saving the college more than $400,000 by paying out these stipends instead paying full salaries to additional employees or consultants.
"We are saving money. These people are doing a lot of work and doing a great job. We had to give them something. I think it's money well spent," Rodriguez said. "I think this is all being blown out of proportion."
Ted Simas is one trustee who believes that Rodriguez violated Delta's policies. Simas and fellow trustees Teresa Brown and Mary Ann Cox will be making up the board's subcommittee to look into the issue.
Some of the board members, including Castellanos, said they most likely would have approved the stipends, which measure in additives of five to 15 percent above the managers' salaries, especially if it really does save the college money when Delta, like many colleges, is struggling financially.
"It looks like Dr. Rodriguez invested $94 to save $400,000. Just looking at it form the bottom-line point of view, I probably would have supported it," Castellanos said.
Under Delta's board of trustee policy, it is the responsibility to "fix the rate of compensation for all employees." Rodriguez said he believes that refers only to the base salary pay of employees, not to additives like stipends. Simas disagrees and thinks Rodriguez is violating school policy and his own contract.
"To me it's pretty cut and dry because if you use common sense on board policy, it says the president will not alter the pay of any employee. The amount of money is not the issue here. It's a matter or ethics, a matter of trust and the issue of no more surprises," Simas said, referring to the problems Rodriguez and Delta College's previous board had while working on the Mountain House satellite campus and being surprised with project changes that wasted millions of dollars.
At Tuesday's meeting, Rivera said she had brought up the issue and questioned an approved stipend in February and asked why the board didn't do anything then. While Castellanos said he was aware of the stipends, the rest of the board didn't have any recollection of the discussion. Simas said there is nothing on the February agendas mentioning the stipends and he is currently listening to audio of the month's meetings to see if he can find what Rivera is referring to.
Simas does remember approving a stipend for Lee Belarmino, who oversees the Measure L Bond team, on April 15, 2008. That item was on the agenda and required the approval of the board. Simas said he doesn't understand why that stipend had to be approved, but the newest ones didn't.
The board's new subcommittee will have its first meeting on Monday. After looking into different policies and evaluating the situation, it will bring its findings back to the board. No specific date is in place for that to happen, Simas said, adding it will be as soon as the investigation is complete.