When Southwestern Illinois College President Georgia Costello retires next year, she will begin drawing between about $118,515 and $118,889 per year from two pensions.
She couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Of her estimated benefits, between about $55,361 and $54,987 per year would come from the State University Retirement System for the 10 years she will have worked at SWIC by the time she retires.
About $63,528 per year would come from the Teachers’ Retirement System for the 23 years she worked in Belleville public schools and for the five years she worked in the St. Clair County Regional Office of Education.
The Belleville News-Democrat obtained the amounts from SURS and TRS through Freedom of Information Act requests.
SURS provided estimates that might be different from the official pension calculation that will happen after Costello files her application for retirement. That application is due 60-90 days before she wants to retire.
TRS declined to provide an estimate of Costello’s benefits through 2018 and instead provided her monthly benefit as of Thursday.
This past fiscal year, Costello’s gross earnings from SWIC totaled $195,462, excluding benefits, according to numbers provided by the college:
▪ $178,662 salary;
▪ $8,400 car allowance;
▪ $8,400 expense allowance.
An announcement that there would be a change in leadership at SWIC came as the board of trustees was talking about ways to bring financial stability to the college since the state budget impasse.
The same day Costello shared the news that she wanted to retire, the trustees had scheduled a special meeting with the possibility for a vote to fire full-time and part-time employees on the agenda. Ultimately, the board took no action.
The agenda for their meeting Wednesday included the same possibility, and again, trustees decided not to take any action on potential layoffs. Any discussions about personnel have taken place behind closed doors.
Trustees already laid off 47 staff members and 19 administrators this year to cut costs after a drop in state funding. The union representing SWIC support staff is asking to be included in the board’s financial talks moving forward.
$13.5 million State funding for SWIC in fiscal year 2015
$1.6 million State funding for SWIC in fiscal year 2016
The union’s leadership issued the following statement:
“SWICEE Local 6600 would like to congratulate Dr. Costello on her announced retirement and on the years of service and leadership she has provided to the college,” they stated. “We wish her the best and a happy, prosperous retirement.
“In addition, SWICEE Local 6600 is glad that the board of trustees has not yet voted to eliminate additional faculty and staff positions at this time, and it has always been our hope and desire that the board will reach out and include us in the discussion as the college works to financially recover from the shortages caused by the state budget impasse.”
SWIC has stated that between fiscal years 2015 and 2016, the amount of money it received from the state decreased by about 87 percent: from $13.5 million to $1.6 million. At the same time, 1,139 fewer students attended the college.
Making cuts to its workforce hasn’t been the college’s only response; it also raised tuition and fees for students this year.
Retired SWIC employee Mike Reed said he thinks the next president needs to come in with some ideas for dealing with the financial stress, such as innovative ways to generate revenue.
“It’s not going to correct itself in the near future,” Reed said.
After almost 26 years at SWIC, he voluntarily retired in 2016 through a program created to save the college money. Reed, 65, was SWIC’s Red Bud campus executive director and associate dean.
One of the employees affected by layoffs this year said she sees the potential for a new president as an opportunity for the board to “refocus” the college.
Jill Lorance’s position was cut after working at SWIC for nearly 28 years, she said. Lorance, 65, was the evening and college activities supervisor at SWIC’s Sam Wolf Granite City campus.
She said Costello’s retirement will give the board a chance to bring in someone from outside the college who “must have a love for students.” That newcomer will also need patience, according to Lorance, because she says the staff will need to learn to trust again.
“Like myself, a lot of people have been there a long time, and there’s nothing wrong with longevity, but sometimes new ideas don’t get to the surface that way,” Lorance said of the benefits of “new blood.”
She thinks the next SWIC president should also have a background in higher education and an understanding of community colleges, in particular.
Like myself, a lot of people have been there a long time, and there’s nothing wrong with longevity, but sometimes new ideas don’t get to the surface that way.
Jill Lorance, former SWIC employee, on the next college president
“A community college is different than a four-year university, and the needs for the students are different,” Lorance said. “... They need to be aware of what a community college student needs.”
She would like to see a focus on more help for SWIC students to find jobs after they graduate, for example. “The finances will improve when enrollment improves,” Lorance said, which is why she believes the emphasis should be on improving the college in terms of what students need.
Costello previously worked as an assistant regional superintendent in St. Clair County, as principal of Belleville District 118’s Central Junior High School and as a teacher in Belleville public schools. She told the BND in a 2008 interview that she saw her experience in K-12 education as an asset.
“I’m familiar with the feeder schools that come to SWIC,” Costello said previously. “I’m familiar with the superintendents, principals and the greater portion of the eight counties that SWIC represents. That is obviously due to my husband’s position.”
Her husband is former U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, of Belleville.
Reed said he thinks prior leadership roles at either the K-12 level or in higher education would benefit SWIC’s next president.
“Whether or not they come from a K-12 system or come from a community college, I think team-building skills are important: the ability to have a vision and inspire people to grasp and see their vision, to communicate that vision,” Reed said.
A decade of service
After the SWIC board picked Costello for the president position in 2008, board chairman Nick Mance and Gary Davis, who was a consultant for the Illinois Community College Trustee Association, told the BND that her qualifications included her experience and familiarity with the area and its needs.
“She has a definite interest in this college — and that’s a plus,” Mance said at the time. “When somebody wants to be here, that helps.”
Costello plans to retire after a decade as SWIC’s president. In that time, she developed a working relationship with Lewis and Clark Community College President Dale Chapman.
I could not have asked for better colleagueship during her tenure as President.
Dale Chapman, Lewis and Clark Community College president
“President Costello and I decided early on that it was in the region’s interest as bordering institutions in the same labor force region of the St. Louis metropolitan area, that Lewis and Clark and SWIC needed to talk and collaborate frequently on the development of new career programs and services,” Chapman wrote in an email to the BND.
“I could not have asked for better colleagueship during her tenure as president.”
Reed said he saw Costello continue the support for student success centers on each of the SWIC campuses that started before she came to the college. The centers are where students can get tutoring or help writing academic papers, for example.
Chapman also highlighted Costello’s achievements.
“Over the past decade, President Georgia Costello has positioned SWIC among the most highly respected and effective community colleges in the state,” he stated. “The scale of the baccalaureate, career and public engagement offerings of SWIC defines the institution as one of the largest outside the Chicago metropolitan area.”