YSU 101: There’s always money

There’s a lot to like about Youngstown State University, and I continue to discover more likes nearly every month.

My kids will take part in sports camps this summer.

I work with journalism students.

I enjoyed a recent autism lecture and learned more about YSU’s role in jump-starting the legendary Rich Center for Autism.

The summer arts fest is a must-do. A photo flashes on my computer of my son with Pete the Penguin.

So in many ways, I get it.

But I’m nervous of a lesson YSU is teaching.

That lesson: There is always money available, regardless of what reality tells you.

YSU OK’d a $252-per-year tuition hike Friday. It was blamed on the mega-cuts coming down from Gov. John Kasich’s administration.

This year’s hike follows a tuition increase last year of $244 per year. Those decisions are in addition to a slew of fee increases: parking ($22 more), graduating ($65), housing and food ($300), nursing program ($71), STEM ($204) and even physical therapy ($250).

These are the increases students, their families and taxpayers endured.

Contrast these increases with another version of increases that the top YSU bosses have “endured” over the last four years.

To get a better college president, YSU increased the president’s salary last year from $308,000 to $350,000 — and it goes to $375,000 and $400,000 in the next two years. (I like Dr. Anderson, but this is about numbers, not her.)

To get a better football team, YSU hiked the coach’s pay from $137,000 to $259,000 and added more pay for the assistant football coaching staff.

Those were the higher-profile increases. But the generous-raises trend extends beyond Doc and Coach.

In the last four years, according to YSU’s own data that we collected and will soon add to our Government Watch website this week:

Chief legal counsel Holly Jacobs jumped 25 percent in pay to $135,673 (more than 5 percent annual average).

Athletic Director Ron Strollo jumped 29 percent to $131,766 (more than 7 percent annual average).

Police Chief John Gocala, up 21 percent to $95,692.

Grad studies Dean Peter Kasvinsky, up 23 percent to $154,610.

Education Dean Phil Ginnetti, up 21 percent to $143,596.

YSU working class/labor guru John Russo, up 18 percent to $111,901.

Let me pause on Russo’s trend for just a minute. It is ironic for several reasons:

In a recent diatribe against Senate Bill 5 and YSU boss Anderson, he mentioned SB 5 in the same breath as death camps, war crimes, slave trade and children working in steel mills.

Yet when you include his better half’s YSU pay and benefits, there’s almost a cool $250,000 coming into the home of a guy who attacks those like me who question mechanisms used to tax working people.

He will no doubt launch another plume of hate spew toward The Vindicator because he’s good at hate, especially on the anonymous Facebook page he created to spew his Vindy tirades.

Not all upper-leadership raises were this generous. Some toughed it out in the annual 2-3 percent range.

Pay for top brass trended down only when newcomers arrived on campus, as four new hires demonstrated. But that wasn’t always true.

For the new veep of administration, up 45 percent from 2007 to $175,393.

The new dean of arts and sciences, up 45 percent to $143,872.

Two final raises that I believe illustrate the gap in logic between private business that lives with business realities and public business that wants to be like private business — except when it hurts.

Ikram Khawaja is a beloved campus presence, friends say. And like Anderson’s pay — it’s not about him; it’s about the numbers applied to him.

In 2007, he was a dean, and he is now a provost. His current pay as provost is $184,279. Compared with what his pay was in 2007, that’s nearly a 100 percent pay boost.

Compare his pay with what the previous provost earned in 2007, and it’s a 20 percent pay hike.

Jack Fahey is a Buffalo boy, which makes him, like me, blessed at birth. And because he’s of blessed Buffalo breed, I have no doubt that he worked and earned his recent promotion to Dr. Anderson’s prior post of vice president of student affairs. It comes with a $135,000 salary. For Fahey, that’s a 117 percent pay boost from his previous post.

Facing the economics that YSU faces, a private business would have looked trusted souls such as Ikram or Jack in the eye and offered them increases that were a tremendous pay boost from their current paycheck. But they would have resisted the top-shelf pay you’d use only if you needed to lure away talent from another company.

But in these cases, top-shelf pay was committed to guys not going anywhere. If you’re flush with cash, do that. But you’re not if you’re in the midst of fee increases on students, families and taxpayers.

There are a ton of “buts ...” about the YSU economy to counter my points, and I’m sure Russo has posted 40 of them on his Facebook page by now. They are truthful “buts” to be sure.

In totality, YSU salaries aren’t stellar amid the grind of its day-to-day staffers, and I looked at five years’ worth this week. And I’ve worked with a few YSU folks I could classify as underpaid.

And even in the generous pay increases listed above, I’m sure those wages pale when compared with peers at other institutions, such as the one that starts with a “THE.”

And you also can argue that you get what you pay for, and that the public effects of a college trump jails and streets and parks, and you should invest more, and that YSU tuition is the lowest of the top 11 public schools.

All YSU truths in many ways.

But another YSU truth is it sits in the middle of a community where, over the same period as these raises, our annual retail sales decreased, which plummeted tax revenues to other institutions.

Our unemployment and foreclosures surged as we were sucked into the same housing and banking crisis as the rest of America. Wages have been frozen or rolled back, and health-care costs have grown.

And almost 90 percent of the student body receives financial aid.

And it’s on these backs that more YSU tuition and YSU fees get thrust while everyone on campus — from rank-and-file staffers to the top brass — roll along with unrelenting pay increases — some more profound and inexplicable than others.

YSU lesson 101:

Money is always available.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com.

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