In the face of continued weak revenues and the need to transfer substantial sums of money from its reserve fund to the general fund to cover expenses, the Triton Board of Trustees continues to approve the spending of tens of thousands of dollars on hotel stays and food and liquor for overnight, off-campus staff training and parties that could be less expensively handled on campus. In addition, over $6,000 a year is being spent on meals for administrators and board members attending on-campus committee and board meetings.
Over a seven week period from July 25 to Sept. 30, Triton will have expended nearly $37,000 on such events, according to college documents. Between $13,000 and $15,000 was spent on two staff sessions and a party for administrators, and the school will spend as much as $25,000 next month for two conferences-$15,000 is budgeted for a Sept. 17-19 stay for some 36 Triton administrators, board members and faculty at the Abbey Resort in Lake Geneva, Wis. Though the event was not approved until the Aug. 21 board meeting, a “non-refundable” deposit of $3,000 was sent to the Abbey on Aug. 9, as required in their contract with the resort. A total of 36 rooms have been reserved for the event.
Triton President Patricia Granados and administrative assistants Brenda Jones Watkins and Susan Page will accompany 15 faculty members, five administrators and five mid-managers to the resort for a “leadership academy,” as it’s being billed. In addition, “presentations” will be made by Triton Vice President for Business Sean Sullivan, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Marge Stabile, two department chairs, two deans, one faculty member, an unspecified number of board members and “union leaders.”
“The President’s Leadership Academy is an opportunity for faculty and staff to develop leadership skills and shape the future of the college,” reads the accompanying “rationale” for funding the event.
According to Triton documents, the college will also pay between $6,500 and $7,000 next week to put 10 new Triton faculty and others up at an Oak Brook hotel for an orientation session. That annual event used to be handled by a welcome dinner.
The Triton board was polled earlier this month regarding the Lake Geneva event, and six members voted for approval, with Trustee Irene Del Giudice voting no.
“I have no problem with them having a meeting,” Del Giudice explained Friday. “The problem I’m having is we spent so much money to have a beautiful college center. What is it that you can’t learn here that you can learn at the Abbey? A couple of years ago, we asked each classified department employee to give back $200,” she noted. “Then we turn around and spend this kind of money.”
The college utilized its theater facility last spring for a series of brainstorming sessions with staff. It also has another auditorium-style room available on campus. Over the past two years, the college has spent well over $1 million renovating its first floor College Center and several large upstairs dining rooms frequently used by the school’s Hospitality Industry Administration program. That program is capable of producing high level dinners for a large number of people.
What is the Leadership Academy?
Little is currently known on campus regarding the Leadership Academy itself, outside of those who have been invited.
“Nothing has gone out on campus regarding the Leadership Academy,” said one source, who requested anonymity. “There’s no classified staff, and classified is the largest employee group on campus.”
Triton President Patricia Granados did not return a phone call Monday and was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Elected Triton faculty leaders also say they have not been contacted about the academy.
“I was aware Patty [Granados] was talking with faculty about this, but I don’t know any details,” said Triton Faculty Association President Maggie Hahn-Wade, whose group voted no confidence in Granados 15 months ago. “I know she didn’t come to anybody on the faculty leadership about the Leadership Academy.”
Hahn-Wade echoed Del Giudice’s concern regarding the cost of the resort stay.
“We’re having a hard time getting materials for classes,” she said. “I ask myself, how do we afford these trips?”
“Everyday supplies that departments need to operate, there’s a shortage of,” said another source, who wished to remain anonymous. “We can’t get pencils, and these people are feasting.”
Del Giudice quoted Triton board Chairman Mark Stephens, who in July told the board of trustees and school administrators that “fiscal accountability is more important than ever.” Among the things Stephens discussed was the college president contemplating “some kind of policy change about reporting requirements after a trip is taken.” He also asked board members, “effective immediately,” to provide verbal reports about their travel, including how it benefits the college.
Recently elected Trustee Thomas Gary of Oak Park, who returned a phone call Monday night, defended the school’s current practices, saying they were legitimate efforts to address challenges facing Triton.
“Maybe the way we always did it isn’t the best way,” he said. Gary noted that Triton had recently hired a new director of professional development, Brian Swope. “I’m not stuck in the past. I’d like to give the new director an opportunity to try different things,” said Gary. He added that developing such plans “is something we hire a president to do. If something is not being done in an acceptable manner, that’s something trustees should look at.”
Other recent expenditures:
Triton’s chairs and coordinators held an overnight retreat at an Oak Brook hotel in July at a reported cost of $11,000.
A College Council retreat at the same hotel, though not an overnight stay, cost $2,000, including an $800 bar bill at Champ’s Sports Bar on Roosevelt Road. That event used to be hosted on campus.
Last Thursday, President Granados reportedly had some 30 administrators over to her Wheaton home at a cost to the school of $2,000 for catering. That reportedly did not include liquor, but may include the cost of clean-up at her home.
Money is also available to supply a dinner spread for officials attending the monthly Academic Affairs Committee and Operations Committee meetings, and for dinner for trustees and public refreshments at monthly trustee board meetings. Those costs range from $444 to $480 per month. In addition, $57-$76 per month is spent on bottled water for Vice President Sullivan’s office. The bills for those services come from Ace Coffee Bar, an established catering service which is currently under contract to run the school’s student cafeteria.