Penn State administrators have a high price tag for meeting expenses

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Penn State’s board of directors has spent nearly $318,000 in its past six in-person meetings.

Center Daily Times, file

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STATE COLLEGE — Penn State’s board of trustees spent nearly $318,000 on its last six in-person meetings, covering attendees’ travel, lodging, food and other expenses, according to newly released records.

The 38-member board of directors spent more than $155,500 on food and associated costs for the gatherings, an average of nearly $26,000 for each two-day event. For its July meeting at the university’s York campus, the board paid $17,800 in “reception/dinner” expenses.

Financial information from the six meetings — from September 2021 to July 2022 — were part of the materials made available for the meeting of the Committee of Trustees on Governance and Long-Term Planning on September 22.

Wyatt DuBois, a spokesman for Penn State, said in an emailed statement that costs for directors’ meetings vary depending on location, attendance and agenda. Trustees are not paid and the university reimburses their travel expenses, although some board members waive that reimbursement, DuBois said.

Penn State’s recent spending comes amid a college-wide effort to tighten its belt — and a recent tuition hike.

Coming out of a $127 million deficit last year, Penn State is under a “strategic hiring freeze” until at least the summer of 2023 to help balance its budget. President Neeli Bendapudi has also set up a 3% budget reduction. In July, the council voted to raise tuition fees from 5% to 6% to help increase revenue. University officials said they are exploring other ways to increase revenue, which typically comes from state tuition and credits.

Employees questioned university management about a $71,000 raise for a high-level administrator, the creation of a new position of vice-president during the hiring freeze and increases the workload of employees at a time when wages are overtaken by inflation. A board committee, including several of its most influential executives, also came under scrutiny to regularly hold private meetings that may violate Pennsylvania’s transparency law.

In a statement, DuBois said the board is aware of meeting costs and has been working for years to save money.

“The Board has made and continues to explore changes to reduce costs, including remote off-cycle committee meetings, remote director attendance, moving the full Board meeting to the Eric J. Barron Innovation Hub building, limiting the number of directors. and staff who work in meetings and change streaming services from WPSU to Microsoft Teams operated by Penn State IT,” DuBois said.

Directors’ expenses peaked in the past decade in the 2015-2016 fiscal year, when the board spent over $415,000 on meetings, according to older financial reports. The previous fiscal year, 2014-2015, directors’ meetings cost almost $406,000.

In three of the last four completed fiscal years, the board’s annual expenses exceeded $300,000, with the exception of the pandemic-hit 2020-21 fiscal year, when directors spent $89,168, according to financial reports. .

Accommodation was the second largest expense category for the board in the most recent cycle. Over the past six meetings, directors have spent over $75,000 in total, or an average of about $12,500 per meeting.

The board also paid $61,700 for “purchased college services,” though reports offer limited details about those services. For example, in May 2022, the council paid $10,858.54 for “Barron video” and “Fleet”.

DuBois said administrators use university-owned fleet vehicles and that WPSU produced the video celebrating former university president Eric Barron, who retired in May.

The board uses the Penn Stater Hotel & Conference Center — which the university owns but is expected to sell this fall — for some of its meetings at University Park. Expense reports show directors paid the Penn Stater more than $100,400 for “meal and break services” at meetings there.

At the September 22 governance committee meeting, David Kleppinger, a governor-appointed trustee, said the board supports university-run services.

“The bulk of these expenses are for accommodation, meals and break services, and other services, and most of them are provided by university entities,” Kleppinger said. “So it’s money coming back to the university for those services.”

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Eleanor C. William