Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake, who’s been on paid leave since December for unknown reasons, has agreed to quit and will walk away with more than $600,000 in pay and severance.

The resignation agreement, finalized Wednesday when Blake’s attorney signed it, allows her to continue on paid leave until she officially steps down on June 30. The college district’s governing board voted 3-1 to approve the deal during a closed session on Tuesday night, board Vice President Nina Deerfield said.

Why this matters

Palomar College’s six-figure severance to its outgoing president comes amid a budget crisis at the community college district that serves 30,000 students. State officials have said the district could go broke within two years.

Deerfield said she cast the dissenting vote but declined to explain her decision. Board President Nancy Ann Hensch was absent.

“I think it’s good for Palomar College to be able to move forward now, all working together,” Deerfield told inewsource.

Blake, who is leaving amid a financial crisis at the school, will receive a $452,000 severance payment and more than $150,000 in regular pay from her administrative leave.

The agreement also entitles her to a $15,000 separation payment. She can receive compensation for up to 48 unused vacation days.

The college, which serves 30,000 students, is reeling from a state report in November that warned Palomar is at risk of going broke within the next two years. It also follows inewsource’s reporting last year about Blake’s decision to spend $1 million of bond money on a new presidential suite on the top floor of the college’s recently constructed $67 million library.

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When the college board voted 3-2 in December to place her on paid leave, a district statement cited an unspecified pending investigation and said the action was “a precautionary measure to protect all parties.”

A district spokeswoman said Thursday details of the probe involve confidential personnel information, but the investigation is no longer needed as the board and Blake “resolved all matters to their mutual satisfaction.”

The resignation agreement reveals that Blake filed a complaint with the district about a week before she was placed on leave. She also filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and contacted the NAACP. She has agreed to withdraw the complaints.

Neither Blake nor her attorney, Gregory McCoy, responded to messages Thursday from inewsource.

Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake is shown at a meeting of the school’s Independent Citizens Oversight Committee on March 1, 2019. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

As superintendent and president of the community college district, Blake was paid $301,547 annually. Her severance payment, which will be issued within a month of her official departure, totals 18 months of pay.

A month before Blake was placed on leave, the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team said Palomar was on track to consume all of its reserves within the next two years and be forced to borrow $6.5 million to remain solvent. Around the same time, the college’s Faculty Senate announced a 92% vote of no confidence for Blake.

The California Community College System plans to appoint a fiscal monitor for Palomar. The position is expected to cost the system $180,000 to $230,000, depending on the scope of work and the monitor’s expertise and travel expenses, officials said.

Teresa Laughlin, president of Palomar’s faculty union, said she hopes Blake’s resignation and the agreement “will prove to be beneficial, and increase transparency and cooperation among the various campus groups.”

Jack Kahn, assistant superintendent and vice president of instruction, will continue to serve as Palomar’s acting president. He declined to take additional pay for the extra duties.

Blake has been the college’s president since 2016. During her tenure, the college opened two campuses: the South Education Center in Rancho Bernardo and the North Education Center in Fallbrook. Its main campus is in San Marcos.

Previously, Blake was president at the College of Alameda in the Peralta Community College District.

Jennifer Bowman is an investigative reporter at inewsource, covering Imperial County and the South Bay. She used to cover education for inewsource. She’s happy to be back in her hometown after stints at daily newspapers in Michigan and North Carolina. At the Asheville Citizen Times,...