Salary of CFCC interim president raises questions

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Nearly four months after Dr. Amanda Lee announced she was resigning as president of Cape Fear Community College, the school has announced the formation of an ad hoc committee to "evaluate replacing the president." That's according to CFCC Board of Trustee Chair Mat White, who said the committee was established late Thursday afternoon.

White said this was not a search committee. Trustee Ann David is chairing the committee. Other members include Louis Burney, Mary Lyons Rouse, Dr. Chuck Kays, and Zander Guy.

"The committee will come back to the full board with recommendations on the direction we need to go to fill the president's office," White said, adding he did not think the committee had set a date for its first meeting.

"There is no established time frame on how long the interim period will last," CFCC spokeswoman Rachel Nadeau wrote in an email when asked about the delay in the presidential search.

CFCC has struggled to find a permanent president since the departure of long-time president Eric McKeithan in 2012. At least five people have served as president or interim president at the college in the last six years.

Jim Morton has been serving as interim president since Lee resigned, effective Dec. 31, 2017. His salary was increased from the $176,000 he was making as executive vice president to $210,000 to serve as interim president.

Morton joined CFCC in 2015. He previously worked as the finance director for the Wilmington International Airport. He does not hold a doctoral degree, which has been a minimum qualification for past presidents of Cape Fear Community College. According to CFCC's website, he holds a bachelor's degree in marketing from UNCW.

We have received several letters and emails from viewers questioning Morton's compensation level. The amount Morton is being paid to serve as interim president of the college appears to be in excess of guidelines set by the state.

According to the North Carolina Community College System personnel policy, "an interim or acting president's salary will be set at the step of the salary grade for the respective college... [A] board of trustees may grant a college employee appointed interim or acting president a 10 percent salary increase instead of placing the employee on the president's salary schedule."

The recommended salary set by the state for presidents of large community colleges like CFCC is $157,718, well below what Morton is being paid. Even if you use the 10 percent salary increase from his previous pay grade, that would only bring Morton's prescribed salary to $193,617, substantially less than the $210,000 he is currently being paid.

When asked about the salary concerns, White said he thought everything had been cleared with the North Carolina Community College System (NCCS).

"I'm not sure, but the state approved interim the [appointment] and salary. As far as I know, everything was approved," White said. "They followed the same formula that they used for Dr. Lee when she became interim president for salary."

We reached out to the state community college system. They told us their guidelines only apply to how much a president can be paid with state money.

"Under General Statute 115D-32(b), the local board of trustees may use local or private funds to supplement the state salary," NCCS Spokesman Brian Long explained in answer to our question about Morton's salary.

White said he was aware that some people were also concerned that Morton lacked a doctoral degree.

"The committee will follow whatever guidelines the state has. We are not going to create our own parameters. We are going to use state parameters," White said. White said and the state confirmed that local trustees have discretion to set the qualifications for president. Even though a doctorate has been required in the past during presidential searches, White said that is not necessarily set in stone for future presidents.

Out of the 58 community college presidents in North Carolina, all but three held doctorates at last check. Exceptions include Morton, former Lt. Governor Walter Dalton, who holds a law degree and now serves as president of Isothermal Community College, and David Heatherly, who was promoted to president of Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville after more than 30 years of service at the school.

Whoever the board selects as president at CFCC will have to be approved by the state. Morton declined our request for an interview.

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