Thomas Fallo
Thomas Fallo

In a surprise development, the El Camino College board is expected to terminate a search for a successor to college President Thomas Fallo in favor of offering him a nearly $40,000 raise to dissuade him from retiring.

The proposal, which the board plans to formally approve or deny at Tuesday's regular meeting, is already raising hackles in some quarters of the faculty union, whose members haven't received a raise since 2008.

Tuesday's 4 p.m. board meeting location has changed from the board room to the East Dining Room - located on the second floor of the Bookstore Building.

"It's obscene - it really is an obscene amount of money at this time," said Nina Velasquez, executive director of the Torrance-area college's faculty union. "It's a slap in the face."

Fallo, president of the community college since 1995, quietly announced his intention to retire at a board meeting in November. Although Fallo is 66, trustees say his announcement came as a surprise to them. Fallo could not be reached for comment Monday.

Some of Fallo's critics - such as Velasquez - point out that he has twice before signaled an intention to leave, only to stay after the board has offered him a raise. However, his defenders point out that in 2009 - about the time Fallo was being courted by the Riverside Community College District - he declined an offer by the El Camino board to boost his salary by $36,000.

In any event, the current four-year proposal is perhaps a sign of more bountiful times to come for public education in California. In November, the state's voters approved Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase designed to stop the fiscal crisis that has gouged K-12 schools and community colleges.

The current proposed offer would boost Fallo's base pay from the current $277,000 to $313,000 beginning Feb. 1. It would also add a net $3,500 annually for automobile and other expenses. Further, it includes a 5 percent increase for each of the next three years, ultimately bringing Fallo's salary to $362,000 by February 2016.

El Camino board President Bill Beverly - who has clashed with the union in the past - said he doesn't disagree with the equity issue being raised by Velasquez. But he believes the proposal makes sense, given what Fallo is worth on the open market.

"There's no question that he was underpaid when compared to similar positions in like districts," he said. "For example, the president at Santa Monica (community college) was making almost $100,000 more than he was making here."

Interestingly, the president of the faculty union, English professor Sean Donnell, was far less pointed in his criticism of Fallo and the board than Velasquez, who, unlike Donnell, is employed by the union, not the college.

"The board has been magnanimous with Dr. Fallo's salary," he said. "We hope they have reciprocal magnanimity with faculty and classified salaries as well."

Donnell added that he believes Fallo has been a good president. Among his successes is the passage of two construction bonds - one in 2002 and another in 2012 - that are bankrolling a complete overhaul of the campus.

"Honestly, I prefer dealing with a known quality than an unknown," he said.

Donnell doesn't view the latest development as a ploy on Fallo's part to hike his salary, but "I did say, when I heard about the retirement, that `I will believe he's retiring when I see him drive away."'

The board and the college are attempting to frame the raise largely as a restoration of the salary increase he declined in 2009. It is also characterized as a "modification" due to El Camino's administrative stewardship over Compton College, which lost its accreditation in the mid-2000s due to what was then a climate of corruption.

But Fallo's critics have a more cynical take, speculating that he backed away from the 2009 offer only because of the resulting union unrest. They also point out that, five years prior to that incident, Fallo was courted by the Ventura County Community College District. The El Camino board responded by giving him a 14 percent raise, as well as future 5 percent hikes annually. 

Velasquez said she believes the latest development amounts to a repeat of those interplays.

"It's definitely a calculated attempt," she said, adding that, in the earlier events, "he did it exactly the same way - by holding them hostage."

Beverly said it simply isn't true that Fallo is manipulating the board. For one thing, he said, the board came to Fallo with the unofficial offer, not vice versa. (When pressed, Beverly added that he wasn't among the board members who floated the proposal to keep him.)

Still, Beverly guesses that Fallo probably isn't quite ready to call it quits, even though he has accumulated enough experience to essentially take home his full salary in retirement.

"When he was standing on the door stoop, looking at the rose garden, I think his feet got cold and his heart probably tightened a little, and he had a bit of a change of heart," Beverly said.

He added that the question of Fallo's intentions are irrelevant anyway.

"The real issue is, what's the best decision for the long-term interest of the community college district?"

Is keeping Fallo the best decision?

"That's a tough call," Beverly said. "I think the district is well served having Tom Fallo remain as president, because of the economic climate, because of the status of those two bonds, and because of our relationship with Compton College. But I was prepared to deal with (Fallo's retirement)."

rob.kuznia@dailybreeze.com

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Want to go?

What: El Camino College board to vote on a new contract for President Thomas Fallo

Where: Main board room in the Administration Building, 16007 Crenshaw Blvd. Spokeswoman Ann Garten said it's possible the meeting will move to a larger venue on campus. If that happens, the administration will leave a note on the door.

When: 4 p.m. Tuesday

Information: Link to www.elcamino.edu/administration/board/ or call 310-660-3111