Parkland trustees consider contract extension for Ramage
CHAMPAIGN — Parkland College trustees next week are expected to extend President Tom Ramage's contract to 2018 and give him a 3.25 percent raise.
Ramage, a longtime Parkland employee, was chosen to be the college's president in January 2008. Extending his current employment contract to 2018 would put him in the post for just over a decade. The 3.25 percent raise will bring his annual salary to $218,106.
Trustees are expected to vote on the contract at their meeting Wednesday in Champaign.
"We value what he's doing, his leadership and how he's helping Parkland College move forward," said Tom Bennett, chair of the Parkland Board of Trustees.
Ramage was tapped to be interim president after Robert Exley, whom the board hired in 2006, left the community. Exley, who was president for less than a year, succeeded Zelema Harris, Parkland's president for 16 years.
"When I look out my window at the 113,000-square-foot student services building, at 75 percent completion, it reminds me of how far we've come in the last five years," Ramage said, referring to new campus facilities being built but also ongoing projects to update everything from lighting to systems on the campus.
Bennett counts among Ramage's accomplishments in recent years the assumption of the aviation program from the University of Illinois, development of a master plan for the campus and Parkland Pathways, a dual admission program with the UI.
"Tom has taken on a strong leadership role for us. We're pleased with where we're headed and we want to make that public with the contract (extension)," Bennett said.
In recent years, the college has added new programs, such as industrial maintenance, a program that involved local employers like Kraft and was feted by Sen. Dick Durbin when he visited the college this summer.
The aviation program has been the newest addition. When the UI announced plans in 2010 to shutter its Institute of Aviation, prompting students and pilots to raise concerns, Ramage said Parkland officials would look into the possibility of assuming some of its programs. Last month the community college board OK'd an agreement that would do just that.
The college also in recent years drafted an ambitious campus master plan that called for, among other projects, a new student services building, where admissions, counseling and other offices will be located. An addition to the Fine Arts complex also is underway.
Ramage's time as president has not been without some challenges, though. As the economy has slowly recovered, Parkland's enrollment in recent semesters has backed off its recent highs, prompting tuition revenue to decline. Administrators asked departments to cut 4.5 percent from their budgets for the current fiscal year budget to help pay for various investments such as computers and lab equipment.
"Our budgeting process has gotten tighter in the last five years and more difficult. ... We're leaner than we used to be," Ramage said.
A 6.5 percent decrease in enrollment does have a short-term impact on the college, but looking ahead Ramage said he remains hopeful enrollment will recover, perhaps by next fall, and "we will begin a small steady growth" trend similar to the long-term one seen over the college's 46-year history.
Looking ahead, he said the college will likely deal with some challenges as it begins to take on the aviation program. With the potential to enroll about 130 students it will be one of the larger programs at Parkland, Ramage said. Officials currently are drawing up an agreement with Riverside Research, a New York-based not-for-profit company that will help Parkland run the aviation program.
A three-year strategic planning process will soon begin. And once construction wraps up there will be the logistics involved in managing those buildings.
"For the first time in the college's history we'll have all (student) services located together," when the student services building opens in early 2014, he said.
Ramage arrived at Parkland in 1998 to manage its distance and virtual-learning department. In 2001, he was named associate vice president for academic services and he was later named associate vice president for information services.
"I couldn't be more happy to be in this community, the community of Parkland, and the 12 counties we serve. The experience I've had as president and an employee of Parkland for 16 years very much reinforces the fact that I'm at the right institution," he said.