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University of South Florida staff pay questioned by state auditor

From elementary schools to state universities, many educational facilities make use of local, state or federal funds to purchase equipment, maintain buildings or pay staff. The use of public funds means the schools must comply with certain regulations. In the case of staff pay at the University of South Florida, a state auditor has brought several civil education matters to light.

According to the audit, which was completed during the summer of 2013, at least four current or former employees of the university are receiving compensation that exceeds allowed limits set by the state. While the state doesn't necessarily set limits on university pay, it does limit the amount of state funds that can be used to pay staff. The limit for administrative staff is $200,000 per year.

The state also limits the number of weeks severance pay that can be paid. According to the audit, the school's head football coach is receiving severance pay that calculates to $1.7 million over a 20-week limit. When the coach was fired, university officials negotiated a $2.5 million severance package.

The university contends the funds paid to the coach don't violate the law because the extra funds are compensation for early termination of the contract. The auditor disagrees with this assertion, stating that the payments appear to fall under the law's definition of severance pay. At this time, the disagreement stands regarding the coach's pay.

The university has agreed to make pay changes for three administrative staff, however. The three staff members were all paid over the $200,000, though the university attempted to argue that the individuals were better classified as teachers, who are exempt from the limitation rule. The auditor didn't agree with this argument, so the university agreed to fund any compensation over $200,000 per year from private accounts.

Education law varies from location to location, and that includes issues related to funding and finance. With so many details to keep track of, it's easy for school systems to fall outside of rules from time to time. Taking action to correct errors quickly is one of the best ways to keep out of further legal entanglements.

Source: The Tampa Tribune, "Auditor: USF bent state law with payouts" Jerome R. Stockfisch, Dec. 19, 2013

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