Community college president leaves with $334K payout
GARDNER - When Mount Wachusett Community College President Daniel M. Asquino retired two weeks ago, after 30 years at the college helm and 47 years in public higher education, he left the campus enriched with a new $41 million state-of-the-art science center and an institution that has become a civic and economic driver for the region.
He also left personally enriched with a sizable - and completely legal - pension and benefit payout package. The payments could be among the highest ever for higher education retirees.
The retirement payments are high because of Mr. Asquino’s relatively high salary and his lengthy service, the longest of any college or university head in the state.
The accrued-time payout is more than the $269,984 paid in 2015 to former Bridgewater State University President Dana Mohler-Faria, which then was the largest payout on record dating back to 2006. Mr. Mohler-Faria’s payment and other six-figure lump-sum payments to retiring higher education administrators prompted a review and change in policies for nonunion professional staff by the Board of Higher Education last year.
The policies affect the approximately 1,650 nonunion employees at the state’s 15 community colleges and nine state univeresities.
Before the changes, employees could carry over, year to year, up to 64 unused vacation days. Unused vacation days would be paid out at retirement at full value based on current salary.
Accrued vacation days beyond the 64-day cap could be converted to sick time and cashed out upon retirement at one-fifth the employee’s pay rate.
Starting last July, accrued, unused vacation time beyond 64 days would be forfeited.
The board also reduced the number of vacation days allowed for employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2017.
Mr. Asquino received $68,078 for 64 unused vacation days, which was paid to him in 2016, according to Robert E. LaBonte, vice president of finance and administration at the college. He forfeited 13.95 days because of the eliminated conversion of vacation days beyond 64 to sick time.
Payment for Mr. Asquino’s unused sick time amounts to $266,060, based on 1,250.6 days.
In a Dec. 6, 2016, letter to Mr. Asquino, Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos E. Santiago authorized the payment for sick time in two installments, on the date of separation from service and on July 1.
“In planning for your separation of service, it has been brought to my attention that making use of all of your accrued leave would be impracticable and could cause considerable budgetary pressure on the institution if paid over a singular fiscal year,” Mr. Santiago wrote.
Mr. Asquino said in an interview he rarely took time off from his job.
He said he had never taken a sick day, using a few vacation days for a brief bout of pneumonia and two Achilles tendon surgeries.
“I’m fortunate,” Mr. Asquino said. “Not everybody is that healthy.”
Mr. Asquino still sticks to a routine of jogging occasionally and doing weights five days a week.
Right now, Mr. Asquino is looking to enjoy a summer off but may pick up work again in the fall, possibly teaching in Rhode Island. He’s received several offers for part-time positions, he said.
He thinks the pension and accrued-time payout system don’t need further reform.
“Public employees are paid less than the private sector,” he said.
Mr. Asquino’s successor, James Vander Hooven of Keene, New Hampshire, receives an annual salary of $195,000 plus a housing allowance of $18,000.
Mr. Asquino’s pension could also place him among the state’s top public pension recipients.
The state Retirement Board has not completed audits and final calculations for Mr. Asquino’s pension. But based on its online calculator tool, which factors job category, age, length of service and average of the highest consecutive three years of pay, his annual pension could be as much as roughly $215,000.
The annual amount would be reduced, even by as much as around 23 percent, if he opts for what’s known as Option C, the joint and last survivor option, for his wife to receive annual benefits upon his death.
According to 2016 State Employees’ Retirement System payments posted online, an annual pension of $215,000 would rank Mr. Asquino as fourth highest.
The top three include two University of Massachusetts Medical School retirees, Thomas D. Manning, with $346,136, and the late Dr. Arthur M. Pappas, with $234,998, and former University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack, who received $234,655.
University of Massachusetts President William Bulger, whose pension based on salary plus a housing allowance was unsuccessfully litigated by the state, received $200,876 last year.
Mr. Asquino said that he was eligible to retire 11 years ago with a pension based on 80 percent of his highest average salary. But he loved his work and the community, to which he commuted at least an hour and a half from Cranston, Rhode Island, or Bourne, and he wanted to stay engaged.
“I have saved the commonwealth $1.5 million by continuing to work” and not drawing a pension during those years, he said.