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YSU 101: There’s always money

Published: Sun, June 19, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

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.


1northsideperson(366 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

With the salary numbers that University administration are getting, it is not surprising that the employees that do the work are not happy about frozen wages, concessions and givebacks. There is no pain at the top, so saying "share the pain" is meaningless.

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2Stan(9923 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

Those who grease and fuel the wheels of industry could only wish for such wage increases . My personal view is do we get a good return for the money expended ? Will new industry be lured to The Valley with any new inovations discovered by the students ? Only time will tell . Yes, YSU is only as good as the brains who manage it .

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3CompMan(162 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

As a degreed graduate I have found memories of those lean years working full time in the mills union enviroment to afford tuiton, leaving the keys in the car whilst parked in the lower lot behind Wick Pollock, summer school in attic classrooms and Harry Meshel classes. The arrogance of Russo and Linkon not portraying a fair and balanced approach to union and management to feather their own nest on taxpayers dollars is amazing. Smart folks yes; as they have identified Youngstown past problems but miss the future of world econmics of labor and management. Much like the NLRB and unions dictaiting where Boeing can build a plant and not affend union leadership. Intelligent but not street smart.

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4mrblue(1175 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

The university administration does not know the meaning of share the pain. Their salaries for this area with its economic problems are insane. I guess greed has no bounds. Students can expect the rise in tuition to continue for quite some time.

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5northsideperson(366 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

MrBlue, thank you for reminding me of Bertram's quote, which fits YSU administration well:

"Their greed knows no bounds."

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6author50(1121 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

Comrade Russo can afford to be a socialist!

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7toddfranko(101 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

As predicted, Russo took to an anonymous post on his bash-Vindy page, and it was typical of his misdirection and misappropriation.
• I noted Phil Ginnetti's salary in my column. Phil left YSU last year for another school. Yes, I would have liked to have noted that had I known. But what would stay unchanged is the salary he was assigned in 2011 which was 21 percent more than his wage 4 years ago. That's the crux of the story. But Russo would like to use the absence issue as proof of poor journalism.
• He goes further with his "poor standards" charge by saying that my story had his salary 15 percent inflated and his wife's 50 percent inflated. He called it poor fact-checking, especially for someone who's the editor.
The numbers came from Russo's bosses. Any journalist outfit in the world -- from the Times, the Post to Russo's conspiracy friends, would be allowed and proper to take those same numbers as fact.
If the numbers are off, please correct it with your school.

For the record, YSU records have Russo and his wife listed with these "working class" salaries:
Russo: 91,403
Wife: 68,907

Russo: 94,602 (up 3.5%)
Wife: 71,318 (up 3.5%)

Russo: 97,913 (3.5%)
Wife: 73,815 (3.5%)

Russo: 104,461 (6.7%)
Wife: 78,860 (6.8%)

Russo: 108,117 (3.5%)
Wife: 81,620 (3.5%)

Russo: 111,901 (3.5)
Wife: 84,477 (3.5%)

I'm kind of intrigued by what was so special about 2009 for those two. I suspect -- when I can apply more "journalistic standards" -- that the percent could be the same for everyone that year. I'll crunch those 2009 numbers for everyone on Monday. See if they all cashed in nicely in 2009.

Please help if you know why. From what I know of the economy, it was pretty rough in '08 and in '09 -- except for at YSU.

US News and World Report says this about 2008 (which would be the period tied to the 2009 YSU budget year):
• 3.8 percent decrease in U.S. GDP in the fourth quarter 2008.
• 1.5 million job losses in last quarter.
• 45 percent decrease in housing starts during 2008.
• 0.01 percent rise in consumer prices for 2008, the smallest annual increase since 1955

Seems about right for 6.8 percent raises — if you're to believe YSU's own salary figures.

Chime in with what you know. Stay tuned from me.

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8toddfranko(101 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

@Guin96 -- Thanks for the help. This email came in as well this morning from a YSU'er helping to clarify the 2008/09 issue:
Todd -- 2009 was the first year of the contract negotiated in 2008. In that contract salary, increases were structured with a base percentage increase plus a flat dollar increase. This translates to different percentage increases for each faculty member. The percentage increase is affected by the base salary. Russo's is higher because of his base salary.

That YSU reader followed with this:
"By the way, your column was on the mark for the most part.
"What exists in the public sector is a variation of the NIMBY syndrome. Every budget line has a constituency that advocates fiercely for it. University administrations and Boards are generally reluctant to anger any constituency and therefore the prevailing strategy is to make adjustments across the board and raise tuition to the maximum to minimize specific anger. If Kasich really wanted to force universities to restructure and redefine what they were doing he would have frozen tuition AND cut their budgets. I have my list of things YSU doesn't need to do, but it would anger many people. As their list would anger me.

"The playing field in the public sector is unbalanced compared to the private sector.
In the private sector the employer can always relocate or close down if labor costs get out of control. This creates a shared interest to be reasonable rather than jump off the cliff together. Witness General Motors.
"The public employer has no recourse and must deal with public anger over loss of services or disruption of services if there is a strike. The path of least resistance is to settle contracts and raise revenue through tuition increases and tax increases.

"When one gets old, patterns are recognized. We are in a familiar pattern at YSU: The parties reach an impasse, the Vindicator editorializes, anger and frustration rises.

"If form follows, a settlement will be reached near the 11th hour that no one is totally happy with. Money will be found to pay for it.
"As you say ... at YSU there is always money.
"The disagreement is how to spend it."

Wow -- thank you ...

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9toddfranko(101 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

Another pretty good email:

Thanks for your articles exposing the lavish perks that the public sector gets. My (relative) is "employed" at YSU. I see it first hand.....days off with pay, health insurance, free tuition, big bonuses just for showing up ... all this while I am struggling to pay my son's tuition. I have a small business, and my healthcare deductible is $10,000 per person. I pray that we don't have to go to the hospital. The board at YSU seems to be made up of rich people who don't know what it's lilke for the middle class. When my mother worked at a retailer, she received a 10% discount. She didn't get "free" merchandise.
Why should the YSU employees get free tuition?
It's unbelievable.
It's all on the backs of the students and their families.

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10walter_sobchak(2727 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

Colleges and universities purpose is to teach higher education, not job training. As such, and with enrollment numbers up, the professors should be justly compensated. If enrollment is up, the amount of revenue coming into the place should be up also leading to the question as to why tuition must be continually hiked. When we see the annual step increases in percentage of pay to Dr. Russo and Dr. Linkon, I think we see why. Buried somewhere is the BENEFIT increases these professors receive, especially to the pension plan, which are typically large percentages of the salary. These two professors should be used as the poster children for the support of keeping SB5 the law of the state.

Although college is not job training, a degree is required for many professions; doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, etc. Thus, a degree is essential to obtaining a good living. When you are bringing in students from the 50 mile radius of Youngstown and you recognize how the economy has been devastated, the increases don't have much logic. This is the fault of the Board of Trustees and their lack of connection with the local public. They are not doing the area good service.

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11ytownsteelman(680 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

The database at the Buckeye Institute coincide with Todd's salary numbers.

All public employees' salaries are searchable online at:


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12walter_sobchak(2727 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

Let's not forget that the Wick-Pollock House is being converted into the residence of the YSU president, currently Dr. Cynthia Anderson. As I recall, an old building was renovated about 20 years ago for Dr. Cochran and his wife (Penguin Place), out of which she operated a business.

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13gfpalmer(16 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

Mr Franko,
I do think you hit a low. Your making issue with John Russo and go on to attack his wife. That's low and you should apologize. Stick to Russo.

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14toddfranko(101 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

You're confusing me.
Throughout my writings and my responses, I've intentionally not named his better half.
I'm a huge fan of hers, especially when I disagree with her. She's stoic, poised, fair — and conscientious that others may differ with her. And I do agree with her as well at times ;) ;)
So I went to awkward steps to allow for her relevant salary info, but not single her out in a way equal to John.
Her info is relevant due to the way John ridiculously attacks anyone who attacks the status quo of tax-funded employment or anything else not on his agenda.
I'm sorry you feel that way. I hope I've changed it a bit.
As you can see from the message board, others find the complete picture of Russo relevant.
Here's an email that just came in:
Just a brief note to compliment you on your outstanding column yesterday and particularly for exposing Russo (and his wife) for the scam they perpetrate on Ohio taxpayers. In my opinion these two have no knowledge of what historically made the Mahoning Valley a great community and somehow they have made a career at the taxpayers expense (approximately $250,000 per year including generous benefits) of constantly dividing the community. This latter component continues to be a detriment to our future progress.
The fact that Russo posts negatively about both you personally and the Vindicator in an anonymous fashion says much about his personality and denotes that he is afraid to debate you head on. I am sure many are glad that you have exposed his tactics.
Again -- I'm all for "Mrs. Russo." And I admire John's knowledge. But he has never played well in the sand box and likely never will.

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15gfpalmer(16 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

Mr Franko,
You made her an issue, when you should not have, and now when others write you about her you say "you see." You're making everybody's spouse a potential victim and proving Russo right on standards at Vindy!

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16Tigerlily(509 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

Mr. Franko, your column here reveals that much of your heated debate seems to be more about a childish slap fight of differences with Dr. Russo. How sad that our local newspaper takes up a witch burning cause instead of looking at the real roots of economic problems. How sad that our media officials, who we are supposed to trust, frame arguments so that it alienates and casts blame on workers (in this case, see teachers and staffers) instead of on those who created these problems (in this case, see politicians and sleazy business types who hide their taxes offshore instead of paying their due to be a part of the so-called American Dream).

The people of this region deserve a non-partisan newspaper. Instead, they've got the Fox News of regional newspapers to rely on for skewed information.

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17Tigerlily(509 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

Yes, the public unions are "out of control". I see them rioting in the streets outside my house right now.

PIllaging. Really? This kind of language is extreme and wrongfully used.

It's sad, as I said. Sad sad sad to see such a misuse of a media platform for one political party's perspective to skew everything to read how they want it to be perceived.

And it takes two to tango. The slap fighting is not Dr. Russo alone, slapping air.

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18mrmeeks(1 comment)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

What happened to comparing apples to apples? YSU administrators are not working class-- they have PhDs, multiple master's degrees, and extensive business and university experience. So yeah, they get paid more. And as they move to higher ranking positions, they get big raises. As the university expands and their jobs become more difficult, they get more raises. Isn't that the point? Isn't that why students will pay the increased tuition and fees-- to get better, higher paying jobs?
At least these administrators are in the business of building students up, of attempting to educate. Seems more constructive than being a talking head shouting out numbers with no perspective and little accountability.

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19Tigerlily(509 comments)posted 5 years, 1 month ago

OH Jessedavid, if only we had you running everything, the world would be such a better place. You seem to know EVERYTHING!

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