People are still upset about Steve Kinsella's contract.

The top 20 employees at Gavilan College made $3.4 million in salaries and benefits in 2011, which is about 15 percent of the total personnel expenditures at Gavilan College.

Of those salaries, the heftiest payout – $308,080 to President Steve Kinsella – continues to garner scrutiny after the school board approved Kinsella’s $42,000 pay bump.

Board President Laura Perry decided to re-agendize the touchy topic for discussion at its Tuesday, June 12 meeting, following a direct request from State Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, who “strongly” urged the Gavilan Board of Education to reconsider its Oct. 26 approval of Kinsella’s raise after an advocacy group claimed Gavilan’s board violated the Brown Act when they approved the raise.

“I highly encourage you to listen to members of our community and reverse this action taken,” Alejo wrote to Board President Perry May 23.

The salary hike, which was approved during a special closed meeting Oct. 26, 2011, came after Kinsella was named a finalist for the chancellor post at West Valley-Mission Community College District.

With a base salary of $255,090, Kinsella currently makes more than the presidents at Hartnell College in Salinas, Evergreen Valley College in San Jose and Mission College in Santa Clara, which served approximately 7,100, 7,055 and around 9,000 full-time equivalent students (FTE’s) in 2011-2012. Gavilan served a little more than 5,000 full-time equivalent students in 2011 between its three South County locations.

The top 20 highest paid-employees at Gavilan are making $645,648 more than the top 20 employees at Evergreen.

Hartnell President Willard Lewallen, who was recently elected by the college’s board of trustees, will earn $225,000 when his three-year contract begins July 1.

Evergreen Valley College President Henry Yong makes $188,221 annually, while Mission College President Laurel Jones makes $186,591 annually.

However, when comparing presidents’ salaries to those of superintendent/president’s salaries, Peter Anning, director of marketing and public relations for Mission College, points out that Kinsella’s position – which is technically defined as “president/superintendent” – is “more complex, with greater oversight, greater responsibility and greater liability.”

For example, Gavilan School Board Trustee Walt Glines pointed out that presidents Yong and Jones oversee one college site (the Evergreen Valley and Mission sites each belong to a two-college district). Kinsella, on the other hand, is in charge of everything that goes on between Gavilan’s Gilroy, Hollister and Morgan Hill campuses, Glines noted.

Following Kinsella, the four highest paid positions at Gavilan are the vice president of instructional services ($208,707), vice president of administrative services ($205,601), vice president of student services ($179,535) and a counselor ($177,376).

Perry was contacted for comment on the addition of Kinsella’s contract discussion to the June 12 meeting but did not return calls as of press time.

Trustee Glines anticipates Perry re-agendized the matter because she “wants to make sure all the t’s were crossed and i’s were dotted.”

While Gavilan’s attorney believes the board followed all the requirements of the Brown Act, according to Glines, “the issue was raised, and we want to give people a chance to comment,” he said.

The decision that sparked controversy

A flurry of community disapproval erupted in late October after the Dispatch broke the story of Kinsella’s contract increase.

The school board voted 6-1 to approve Kinsella’s lucrative pay hike during a special closed meeting Oct. 26, which required just a 24-hour notice to the public. Hollister Trustee Tony Ruiz cast the lone dissenting vote.

The new contract bumped Kinsella’s base pay Jan. 1 from $234,090 to $255,090, included 24 days of paid vacation each year and a $1,000 monthly expense allowance. Kinsella’s salary is set to reach $276,090 by 2015 – with no apparent cap – when he would also receive a $31,500 lump sum if he stays with the college until that point. Kinsella’s prior contract awarded him 3 percent annual increases until 2015. The $308,080 figure is Kinsella’s adjusted gross income, which includes his benefits and what is paid into his pension fund.

Following months of letters to the Dispatch and an online reader poll that showed 92 percent of poll-takers disapproved of the president’s pay raise, the League of United Latin American Citizens chapter in Hollister upped the voice of opposition by getting a local politician involved.

Known as LULAC, the organization submitted a request to Assemblyman Alejo to investigate allegations the Gavilan board violated the Brown Act at the Oct. 26 meeting. The Brown Act – which is the law that requires public accessibility of meetings among elected officials – also prohibits government boards from considering salary increases in closed session, and also mandates that meeting agendas must include brief descriptions about the discussion or action under consideration.

The Gavilan board did, indeed, meet in closed session over the matter. And the meeting agenda failed to include mention of a compensation increase – instead listing “public employee performance evaluation” for the president and “public employee appointment.”

Following a letter released May 23 by Alejo requesting that the Gavilan College Board re-agendize its October approval of the president’s $42,000 pay hike, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney John Chase responded May 24 via a letter to LULAC. Chase said the DA supports allegations that the Gavilan College School Board violated Brown Act provisions, but also confirmed the 90-day deadline to invalidate the action has passed.

“Indeed, the documentary evidence that you provided seems to support your claim that the trustees violated multiple provisions of the Brown Act,” wrote Chase, who vowed to examine the situation further.

Board President Laura Perry responded May 29 to Alejo’s letter, writing, “even though there was no violation of the Brown Act, I will agendize the issue of the amendment to President Kinsella’s employment agreement for discussion and action at the next available regular board meeting which is June 12, 2012.”

In her four-page response to Alejo, Perry addresses and refutes each accusation made by LULAC. She also asserts that any “reasonable observer who actually looked at the Oct. 26, 2011 meeting … would not perceive even a technical violation of the open meeting law.”

She suspects that LULAC’s agenda has “less to do with the Brown Act and more to do with other, unrelated decisions of the electors, and of this board.”

Hollister editor Kollin Kosmicki contributed to this story.

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