Chancellor Bling-Bling

City College of San Francisco paid Phil Day a huge salary but refused to fund an auditor who may have stopped the illegal diversion of public funds
Illustration by Chad Crowe

Outgoing City College of San Francisco chancellor Phil Day presided over major institutional changes during his decade-long tenure, although he leaves under a cloud of financial scandals involving the misuse of public funds. Now a Guardian review of public records shows the decision to reward Day handsomely and neglect recommended internal auditing controls set the scene for the problems to come.

Day's high-end compensation and accompanying expense account allowed him to live well. His total compensation last year eclipsed that of the heads of 18 other two-year colleges across California surveyed by The Chronicle of Higher Education, which included community colleges for the first time in its 2007 analysis.

Day's earnings totaled $403,441 for the fiscal year ending in 2007 and included $25,448 in retirement pay plus $31,975 in deferred compensation. He received $12,000 to cover housing expenses — one of only two chancellors who were awarded the benefit — and the state paid $7,200 more for a car.

No one else surveyed from California came close. The runner-up, at Rancho Santiago Community College, made $80,000 less than Day and received nothing for a home or a car. Chui L. Tsang, head of a two-year college in Santa Monica, where the median home value is higher than in San Francisco, received about $30,000 toward housing and automobile expenses but earned a whopping $140,000 less than Day in total compensation.

Darroch Young, former chancellor of the community college district in Los Angeles, which has more students than any other in the country, earned almost $100,000 less than Day, who first joined City College in 1998. Day even made more money than the chancellors at six University of California campuses, including San Diego, Irvine, Davis, and Santa Cruz.

"Raw politics" was how trustee Julio Ramos described it to the Guardian. "The chancellor has had the majority on the Board of Trustees at City College," Ramos said. "Like with any majority, he can dictate the terms of his compensation package."

Trustee Milton Marks, who along with Ramos represents a frequently critical minority on the school's independently elected board, added that the terms of Day's contract were crafted before Marks and others ran for open seats on a reform slate.

As long as the board extended Day's contract each year, it was difficult to slow his salary increases without convincing a majority to start from scratch and reevaluate his performance to determine if his compensation was reasonable. But it's too late for that now. Day is leaving the school March 1 for a new job on the East Coast, but Marks wants the next chancellor to receive increases "that are not so rigidly tied to a formula."

Day's compensation is a small fraction of the school's $375 million budget. But it reflects the district's priorities, and a recently unveiled 232-page internal probe of campaign law violations at the college stemming from a 2005 bond election offers a telling look at how the school has been operated under Day's leadership.

To conduct the investigation, the school hired Steven Churchwell of the multinational law firm DLA Piper, the same group that examined steroids in major-league baseball for former senator George Mitchell. One of first things Churchwell did when he arrived at the school was to search for City College's internal auditor. He soon discovered, however, that the college doesn't have an internal auditor or an audit committee.

"It's very common to have an internal auditor at an entity of this size," Churchwell told the school at a Jan.

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