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Cerritos College Trustees cash in big on medical benefits

By Brian Hews and Brian Hews

Five of the seven current elected members of the Cerritos College Board of Trustees have collected nearly $400,000 in cash payments that is intended to cover medical insurance needs, and it is all legal under a little known loophole in California state law.

Trustees currently earn $6,126 annually for attending two monthly official board meetings. But their overall compensations skyrocket when they decline to enroll in an optional program that would allow them to receive health insurance coverage, the little known practice is known as taking “cash in lieu payments.”

Trustees oversee the direction of the Norwalk-Cerritos based campus but have no direct say so in the day to day operation of the campus.  Cerritos currently has an enrollment of 23,432.  In 2011 they met 19 times to conduct the business.  In 2010 they gathered a total of 22 times, and 2009 they conducted 19 regular meetings and an additional four specially called sessions.

Los Cerritos Community News has gathered financial data from Cerritos College, local city halls, and school boards during the past year that specifically examines the total compensation packages of dozens of local elected officials, and city administrators.

Dr. Robert “Bob” Hughlett, who was elected to the Cerritos College Board of Trustees in 2006, and who is also a former Administrator at Cerritos College has taken $82,982 under the “cash-in-lieu” program.  Hughlett is also a former member of the Cerritos City Council and the ABC Unified School District Board of Education.

Trustee Tina Cho, who was elected in 2007, has collected $74,376 in cash payments for turning down the medical coverage, followed by Trustee Shin Liu at $28,384.  Liu was elected in 2009, is also an instructor at Rio Hondo College.

Trustee Robert “Bob” Arthur, who has been one of the biggest supporters and advocates of Cerritos College for decades, and who is the second longest serving member of the Board ranked fourth and has collected $19,854 under the program since first being elected back in 1996.

Jean McHatton, who was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 2011 after the death of Member Bob Epple has also benefited in the program.  She has taken and has opted into the program and so far received $4,129 in stipend and an additional $7,969 instead of the insurance package.

 

Arthur, the current Board President said the Board is currently looking at an immediate $4 million in cuts.  When asked to comment about the cash in lieu opportunities by Trustees in the current economic crisis facing community colleges in California, Arthur said the “board should probably have a conversation about this.”  When asked if he plans to bring the subject up in public or to place the issue on an upcoming agenda, he said he
“didn’t know.”

“Every avenue of funding and expenses need to be looked into and reviewed,” Arthur said.

Trustee Cho said that she wasn’t in the position to “defend herself.” She said she “works hard as a trustee” and even donates money to student scholarship funds.  Administration officials confirmed to LCCN that Cho has not attended six meetings since her election in 2007, and did not receive her monthly stipend.  “I may have missed two or three meetings a year, but I work hard for the community I represent,” she said.

“I don’t have a rationale excuse for taking the cash in lieu of payments.  We (Trustees) have not voted to raise our own pay for two of the last three years,” Cho said.  A psychiatrist by profession, Cho told LCCN that she is currently not working.   “Everyone is going through rough times right now, and I am no exception.”

Vic Diaz, Editor in Chief of the Talon Marks, the student run campus newspaper said he was “shocked” and “dismayed” learning about the amount of money that was being taken by the Trustees.  “I had no idea that our Trustees are pulling in that much money, especially in these dire economic times,” Diaz said.

LCCN has also confirmed that Areal Hughes, who is a student representative for the board, has been allow to participate in the “cash in lieu” program and has received $6,135 and an additional $3,063 in stipends for a total of $9,198 for the 2011 calendar year.

Hughes said that she didn’t realize that Student Trustees were entitled to the cash in lieu, and told LCCN that she decided to take the payments after her orientation by college officials.  She could not recall the name of the college official who enrolled her into the program” but that she is “grateful for the money.”   Hughes also told LCCN that she also has private health insurance and the “extra cash has been a great help.”

Dr. Ted Stowells, President of the Cerritos College Faculty Federation, the union that represents all certified professors at Cerritos College blasted the trustees and call it a “slap in the face to every faculty member, especially in these time shared sacrifices.
“Faculty members have lost their jobs, and the union wants an environment of shared sacrifices, and frankly I am stunned,” Stowells.

“We have been bogged down in negotiations with the Board of Trustees, and we have never known or been informed that our elected trustees are taking these funds,” Stowells said.

“This should be publicly known, we (CCFF) make requests all the time for information, and we are always brushed aside.  Trustees have eroded our benefits, it is time for them to do the same,” Stowells said.

Stowells also said that part time instructors get no benefit “whatsoever.”  “How is this justifiable,” he questioned.

Solomon Namala, the incoming President of the CCFF, who also teaches Economics at Cerritos College said he this needs to become a “public conversation.”

Dr. Sandra Salazar, MD, is an announced candidate for the 2012 November Cerritos College Board and she told LCCN that she “had no idea” and “is appalled” by the board.  “This reminds me of the City of Bell. We need an environment of openness and accountability, not Trustees stuffing their pockets with cash,” she said.

Trustee Cho said that Cerritos College is in “better shape” compared to when she was first elected, but agreed with Arthur in saying that the board should examine the policy.

Hughlett, McHatton and Liu did not respond to inquiries from LCCN.

Copyright. 2012 from Los Cerritos Community Newspaper Group.  All Rights Reserved. Permission to republish granted with proper attribution

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2 Responses to Cerritos College Trustees cash in big on medical benefits

  1. Whittier Watch Reply

    August 9, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Randy E.& Hews, Another example of local officials taking advantage of the system… An unfortunate, sad commentary on how they see their public service … Thanks for your insightful reporting… Great job! Keep up the good work!

  2. Pete Maddox Reply

    April 20, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    As a former trustee at Rancho Santiago CCD (1990-1997) I applaud you on a great article.

    Sounds as though someone was elected as a trustee, then went on to the Assembly or Senate and modified the law to allow people to do this. I’m sure that person was a teacher or administrator in another district when elected to the board. He or she had medical insurance from his or her employer, so didn’t need more insurance. So, instead of passing on the benefit, they took the cash. Brilliant. And I bet Cerritos is only one of many doing this.

    You might also want to look at the law that allows trustees who are also teachers or administrators of other district to collect two years credit for every year they serve on the board and work as a teacher. This is why you’ll see trustees resigning from the board around June 30, rather than serving out their terms. The law says they must retire from both positions on the same day if they want the double credit. So, people like Brian Conley, a teacher at Orange Coast College and a trustee at Rancho Santiago CCD, can retire with roughly 60 years credit and actually earn more in retirement than they do in their current teaching position.

    Keep digging. You’ve just scratched the surface…

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