I’m sure I’m not alone in being stunned by the compensation package approved at a recent New College of Florida board of trustees special meeting for Richard Corcoran, who was named the school’s interim president following the Jan. 31 ousting of Patricia Okker.
Corcoran, who will take over Feb. 27 and serve until Sept. 1, 2024 (or until a permanent president is chosen) received $699.00 in annual salary — more than double Okker’s pay — plus more of $200,000 annually in housing and car benefits and retirement benefits. He could also receive a bonus of up to 15% of his annual salary for achieving certain goals.
That means former Florida Republican House speaker, education commissioner and Gov. Ron DeSantis ally could earn $1 million or more if he stays at work for the full 18 months. A portion of that amount will necessarily come from college foundation funds — ironic given that the governor’s motivation for his sweeping overhaul of the board and the college itself is his own financial shortfall.
For that kind of money, you might think you’d get a brilliant academic with great success in the public education arena, a history of honest and effective leadership, and a clean ethical slate. Instead, Corcoran—a lawyer and career politician with no experience as an educator—has a reputation for aggressive efforts to undermine public education and promote privatization, failed educational interventions, political patronage, and questionable moral judgment.
His tenure as Speaker of the House featured multiple education-related overhauls designed to increase school choice, expand tax credit scholarships for private schools, decertify teacher unions, and create “Schools of Hope private schools to entice charter school corporations to replace public schools.
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As education commissioner, working with current education commissioner Manny Diaz, Corcoran masterminded the 2017 full acquisition and privatization of schools in Jefferson County, a majority-black rural district outside the state capital. state. Over the next five years, third grade reading proficiency in that district dropped from 41% to 19%.
Corcoran remained at the helm during the ensuing scandal, when a consulting firm headed by a colleague of his received preferential treatment during a bidding process for a $2.5 million contract to take over the management of the schools. Eventually, Jefferson County schools were returned to public control.
In 2021, Corcoran applied to be president of Florida State University, but failed to make the shortlist. (Interestingly, the current FSU president, who oversees 46,000 students, earns roughly the same salary Corcoran was offered for overseeing 700; that’s a ratio of $24 per student versus $1,000 per student).
When he stepped down from his position in May 2022, Corcoran had presided over a continued decline in reading and math scores in Florida’s third through eighth grades, posting one of the worst slides in the nation.
Corcoran, who returned to the consulting and lobbying work he continues today, was quickly appointed by DeSantis to the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system.
While none of this information was shared by administrators, it was double-noted by audience members who were each given 60 seconds to present an audio-only message during the Zoom meeting. Among them was Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orange County), who referred to both DeSantis’ allegation of student indoctrination at New College and Corcoran’s past promotions of the governor’s education reforms, including the so-called design of the “Don’t Say Gay” law and the “Stop WOKE” legislation.
“For a board that says you don’t want to indoctrinate students,” Eskamani said, “you just hired the indoctrinator-in-chief.”
Added Robin Williams: “Making Corcoran president of a public college is like making the Grim Reaper director of your local hospital.”
These comments, scheduled for the start of the meeting, were instead delayed until the end thanks to a request from Board Trustee Ron Cristaldi, who wanted to vote but apparently had more important places to be afterward. Their effect was questionable given that the directors had already approved the compensation package. Like the Corcoran nomination, it was a done deal before the meeting even started.
Since the board must operate in “daylight,” this leads me to believe that the trustees of New College of Florida have an extraordinary gift for telepathic communication. That they would vote without deliberation to bestow such a generous sum of taxpayer money — to a man who has never spent a day as an educator — made me realize how naive it was to expect anything else under the state’s current leadership.
It’s not even about New College anymore. . . or at least, not just on New College. As new president Debra Jenks, a DeSantis appointee, put it, they were looking for someone “battle-proven and day one ready” to advance the governor’s agenda nationwide, “driving the conversation about what higher education is now and what it should be.”
So, the day after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, Board Trustee Matthew Spalding — who nominated Corcoran in the first place — said he believed his longtime friend would be “a great quarterback to advance us, to carry us to our Super Bowl.
That epic battle is supposedly between public education and private profit. Since the Super Bowl commercial went for $7 million for 30 seconds this year, I can only assume that the administrators concluded that Corcoran was the real deal.
Contact Carrie Seidman at [email protected] or 505-238-0392