Thomas Fallo
Thomas Fallo

To the chagrin of some members of the faculty and staff, the El Camino College board agreed Tuesday to terminate a search to replace President Thomas Fallo and approved a new contract that grants him a $40,000 raise.

The board's 4-1 vote, with Trustee Maureen O'Donnell opposed, came after a dozen or so speakers - including faculty, staff members and students of the Torrance-area community college - voiced their misgivings about the four-year contract, which includes three successive 5 percent annual raises. Opponents were especially upset because faculty and staff members have not been given a raise since 2008.

"Two years ago, the atmosphere here was really contentious," said Luukia Smith, president of the classified union representing employees such as clerical and maintenance workers. "We have worked really hard on our collective-bargaining process. ... I think some damage will be done (by the vote), and it will be hard to trust we are all working for the same thing."

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. The announcement left the board six months to hastily begin the process of finding a successor.

Trustees ultimately opted to offer Fallo more money to stay, under several conditions, including one calling for Fallo to give a year's notice the next time he decides to resign.

On Tuesday, board President Bill Beverly tacked on a clause to the contract that creates additional incentive for Fallo to stay for a while: Should he voluntarily resign before three years from now, he must return the entire raise to the district.

The new contract boosts Fallo's base pay from the current $277,000 to $313,000 beginning Feb. 1. It also adds a net $3,500 annually for automobile and other expenses. Further, it includes a 5 percent increase for each of the next two years, ultimately bringing Fallo's salary to $345,000 by February 2015.

It makes Fallo among the highest-paid community college presidents in California, but Beverly said he's worth it.

"This proposal essentially represents the going rate for a superintendent/president of 20 years - that's the going rate," Beverly said. "Am I thrilled about it? No, not really at all. But this is not an excessive salary - we're not overpaying him for what he does. He's one of the best in the state."

There seemed to be consensus even among Fallo's critics that he has led the college with a steady hand.

"President Fallo has provided strong leadership ... he ensured that our full-time faculty has held onto their jobs," said Christina Gold, president of the college's Academic Senate.

But she added that the budget crisis has forced the college to drop about 20 percent of its course sections over the past several years. Counselors have had their work year shortened. "To then offer President Fallo a generous raise would deal a crushing blow to the morale of our campus community."

Despite her no vote on the raise and contract extension, O'Donnell also praised Fallo's performance.

"Yes, Dr. Fallo has done a wonderful job, but so do you - the faculty, the classified and other staff," she said. "For five years our employees have been without a raise.

"In fairness to our students, to our employees and to the community at large, I feel that giving an incentive to Dr. Fallo - who has been well paid to do the good job that he does - is morally repugnant. I will be voting against it."

rob.kuznia@dailybreeze.com