RVC pays fired president

New RVC president has seven vice presidents; long-time president had one

Rock Valley College (RVC) completed its final chapter on the tumultuous tenure of its former President Roland Chapdelaine by shelling out approximately $179,000 in cash, benefits and arbitration costs. Chapdelaine had been seeking about $600,000 in cash, and an additional amount in benefits, when a contract dispute arose after he was unanimously fired by the RVC Board of Trustees Jan. 13, 2004.

The Trustees and Chapdelaine sought arbitration, which became final in July. The arbitration award detailed the dispute, which centered on conflicting sections of Chapdelaine’s contract.

‘Rolling’ contract

Chapdelaine argued his “rolling,” continuous, three-year contract entitled him to: a one-year salary severance payment; an additional three-year salary payout; compensation for unused sick days; payment for accumulated vacation time; insurance coverage for himself; and his family’s medical, dental and vision needs.

RVC Board Trustee Randall Schaefer said the purpose of the “rolling” contract was to provide Chapdelaine with more job security than previous President Karl Jacobs had during his tenure from 1969 to 1997.

Jacobs often had verbal and sometimes written annual agreements with the board.

Chapdelaine lost his argument for a three-year salary payout with additional provisions. Had Chapdelaine won, RVC would have paid Chapdelaine at least $441,000 in cash and an additional amount in benefits, which would have been based on Chapdelaine’s annual salary of $147,900 at the time he was fired.

However, Thomas P. Sullivan, arbitrator for the dispute, agreed with the Board that they were only obligated to pay for one year of related contract contingencies, not the three-year provision Chapdelaine wanted.

According to the arbitration award, even though the Board voted unanimously to fire Chapdelaine on Jan. 13, 2004, RVC continued to pay Chapdelaine for another 47 days, through the end of February 2004. The 47 days cost RVC and taxpayers $19,044, which is about $405 for each day Chapdelaine was not on campus, but still on the college’s payroll.

At the same time, RVC began paying Chapdelaine his $147,900 severance pay.

Combined with faculty and staff “no confidence” votes, Chapdelaine was fired after The Rock River Times published an award-winning, year-long news series that spotlighted Chapdelaine’s mismanagement of the college. The news series “RVC: stewardship in question,” won second place in its category from the Illinois Press Association in October 2004.

Chapdelaine began drafting the confusing contract in late 1998, which was approximately one year after Chapdelaine became RVC’s third president in November 1997. According to the award, Chapdelaine modeled his “rolling” provision after former Rockford School District Superintendent Alan Brown’s contract.

Like Chapdelaine, Brown was also fired from his duties by the Rockford School Board in March 2003.

During the time the contract was proposed by Chapdelaine, Schaefer acted as intermediary between Chapdelaine and RVC attorney Peter Kostantacos. Schaefer testified that Chapdelaine did not indicate that the rolling contract provision entitled him to three years of salary payments in the event of termination.

‘Not persuaded’

However, former RVC Trustees Dennis Olson and Donald Johannes appeared to support Chapdelaine’s view of the contract.

Sullivan wrote: “I was not persuaded by the affidavits or the largely rehearsed, rote and somewhat contradictory, testimony of former Board members Olson and Johannes concerning what occurred at the Board meetings when Mr. Chapdelaine’s contract was discussed [on Jan. 11, 1999 and Jan. 25, 1999].”

Sullivan was also underwhelmed with Chapdelaine’s testimony. Sullivan added: “The testimony of Mr. Chapdelaine…was rather vague and general, and did not come to grips with the provisions…relating to his rights on termination. …

“I believe that the Board of a relatively small community college, located in a relatively small community, would not knowingly undertake the kind of obligation Mr. Chapdelaine urges here in order to continue to serve as president.”

It was not known how much RVC paid to legally fight Chapdelaine, during the contract dispute.

Chapdelaine did not return messages for comment left at his new office at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. Chapdelaine has been president of the Eastern Campus of Cuyahoga Community College since July 26, 2004.

New president

The conflicting sections of the contract, which gave rise to the dispute with Chapdelaine, appear to have been ironed out in RVC’s new President Jack J. Becherer’s agreement with the Board. Becherer began his duties as RVC’s new leader on Nov. 1, 2004.

Delineated in Becherer’s contract are terms for a severance payment, which reads: “the lesser of: the balance of salary for the remaining term of the Agreement; or the equivalent of one (1) year salary at the then current annual salary amount.”

New to the contract, which was not in Chapdelaine’s contract, is a section that describes how the president can be terminated for “philosophical differences” that arise between Becherer and the Board.

During his first year, Becherer was paid a salary of $145,000; $8,000 for a tax sheltered annuity; moving and temporary housing expenses for his relocation from Wanatchee, Wash.; a leased automobile; travel allowance; and expense account.

President’s support team

In related contract matters, Becherer’s supporting team of seven vice presidents will be paid a combined salary of $701,095 this fiscal year for their services, which include repairing RVC’s damaged public image.

Jacobs had one vice president during his 28-year tenure as RVC president.

The following is a list of RVC vice presidents and their annual salaries in order of magnitude:

Sam Overton, vice president of Financial Services; $113,088 annual salary; $6,000 car allowance; $5,000 tax-sheltered annuity;

Robert Campbell, associate vice president of Information Technology Services; $111,795 annual salary; $4,000 tax-sheltered annuity;

Cindy Luxton, interim vice president of Learning Services; $110,000 annual salary;

Suzanne Berger, vice president of Institutional Advancement; $104,186 annual salary; $6,000 car allowance; $5,000 tax-sheltered annuity;

Michael Mastroianni, associate vice president of Outreach and Planning; $93,932 annual salary; $4,800 car allowance;

Shirley Hardy, associate vice president of Human Resources; $93,932 annual salary; $4,000 tax-sheltered annuity; and

Amy Diaz, associate vice president of Student Development; $74,162 annual salary;


Although no specific reason was ever cited by the Board for terminating Chapdelaine, his tenure included the following:

Five consecutive and unprecedented years of deficit spending that totaled $7.3 million

Downgrade of the college’s recognition status by the college’s governing agency, the Illinois Community College Board;

No confidence votes by all three employee groups that totaled 204 to 28;

Legal costs that climbed each year during Chapdelaine’s tenure from about $48,000 to about $460,000 in 2003;

Alleged illegal use of taxpayer funds for two political contributions, which were allegedly reimbursed only after inquiries about the expenditures were made by The Rock River Times;

Controversial awarding of a no-bid $5.6 million construction contract to Robert Stenstrom of Stenstrom Companies Ltd., for whom RVC named their Samuelson Road facility after he reportedly made a $1million donation to the college;

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli refused to investigate the issue, even though he said the contract should have been put out for bids;

Double charges in 1997 for airline expenses for his recruitment to RVC; and

At least $9.6 million in construction cost overruns.

Chapdelaine’s supporters argued he was a “change agent” who ushered the college in

to a bold new era of needed construction projects with “vision.”

From the Nov. 9-15, 2005, issue

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