SWIC served veterans well under retiring president

SWIC celebrating 70 years

Students, faculty, staff, and board members were on hand to participate in a 70th birthday celebration.
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Students, faculty, staff, and board members were on hand to participate in a 70th birthday celebration.

When Georgia Costello retires as president of Southwestern Illinois College next summer, it will be the end of a decade of leadership. That time seems to have gone quickly.

But then relative quiet will do that.

There was a time when everything happening at the community college was measured in protracted litigation. A nasty teacher strike in 1980 with 59 arrested, trustees suing one another, trustees firing the college chief after taking him to court and getting him fined for misusing college funds.

So maybe Costello and trustees deserve the most credit for a decade of relative calm, especially when you consider the challenges they faced were handed to them as opposed to being of their making.

The state has mightily shirked its promises and financial obligations to community colleges, just as it has the rest of our education system. SWIC saw nearly $12 million in state funds evaporate in a year, and that’s out of a nearly $63 million total budget. As a result, 78 fewer people work at the college, but 31 were administrators and the rest support staff. Appropriately, classrooms were protected and teaching functions mostly spared.

Costello’s tenure saw the college ranked ninth-best two-year college in the nation for veterans in 2014 by Military Times magazine. The college was one of the few in the nation with a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs counselor on campus, has a program to prepare vets for the transition to college life and offers free child care for them and military members. With our region’s economic dependence on Scott Air Force Base, doing right by active duty and veteran service members is smart and significant.

Costello also was asked to serve on state and national groups studying issues related to community colleges. She was honored by the Scouts and by the St. Louis Business Journal for her business leadership.

And she quietly did her job despite years of folks questioning whether she got hired because she was Mrs. Congressman Costello. Even if that were true with all its sexist overtones, her own abilities kept her in that high-profile job for a decade. Her strong ties to Democrats in this very blue state certainly did not hurt SWIC.

One thought for the SWIC trustees, however, as they look for Costello’s replacement. If they pay someone $176,100 in base salary, that someone doesn’t need another $8,400 for a car plus another $8,400 for business expenses — especially as staff is being cut.