Originally created 12/15/03

In tight budget, Regents pay thousands to former chancellor



ATLANTA -- A deal former University System Chancellor Stephen Portch signed when he was hired is paying him $450,000 to consult with the state two years after his resignation.

A little-known policy could offer similar pay to all of Georgia's public college presidents if they resign, even as the state's budget woes are forcing the university system to consider layoffs and enrollment freezes.

The policy - approved by the state Board of Regents before Portch was hired in 1994 - paid Portch $272,430 last year, the year after he resigned. Another $181,620 is being divided over three years.

In exchange, he is on call to give advice and information to his successor, Thomas Meredith, and staff of the Board of Regents.

The 11-year-old policy also would pay former college presidents 90 percent of their previous salary the first year after they resign and 60 percent the second.

The money is part of the deal that helped lure Portch to Georgia in 1994 from the University of Wisconsin System, according to state documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, who was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee when Portch was chancellor, was momentarily speechless when told about the agreement.

"That's incredible; that is off the scale," Hooks said. "I don't even know how to react. At a time when the University System is talking of massive layoffs, immediate steps should be taken to revise this policy."

Regent Glenn White, who was the board chairman when Portch resigned in 2001, said the policy gives the state an edge in looking for administrative talent.

The policy replaced an earlier one that stripped presidents of their job tenure protections before they assumed office.

"You're trying to compete out there and get the best-quality people, and that is part of the upfront package," White said.

Officials couldn't specify how many hours a week Portch works for the system. Portch sometimes comes to Atlanta to perform his duties, and he represents the state on national boards and associations, said Arlethia Perry-Johnson, associate vice chancellor for media and publications.

Lawmakers said it was difficult to justify paying Portch $450,000 for advice at a time when agencies are worrying about having to close prisons and nursing homes because of a potential budget shortfall estimated at $440 million to $1 billion.

Officials at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech have warned of layoffs if lawmakers continue to cut their budgets. State funding for the University System has been cut by $211.4 million since 2001, officials said.

Portch would not comment other than to say, "I am pleased to have an ongoing relationship with the University System of Georgia to assist with policy and other matters and to promote the system nationally."