CMC president gets a $350,000 goodbye |

CMC president gets a $350,000 goodbye

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Colorado Mountain College’s retiring president will receive $350,000 in the next decade and other benefits in a parting agreement with the school’s board of trustees.

Cynthia Heelan announced Oct. 31 she was retiring. CMC’s elected board of trustees agreed Nov. 15 to pay Heelan $35,000 per year for the next 10 years, as well as provide her medical coverage for the next six years, or until she finds other employment.

A CMC employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said it appeared as if the trustees, who were often at odds with Heelan, “bought the president off.”

Board of Trustees Chairman John Giardino said he couldn’t say if the retirement package is typical for college presidents because CMC is a unique institution.

“A board member – Rob Dick of Steamboat Springs – came up with this, and they approved it,” Giardino said. “The board felt it was a way of rewarding her and in recognition of what she’s done for CMC, the station she’s brought it to. I wasn’t at that meeting.”

Dick said Saturday he might have spearheaded discussion on the retirement agreement, but he said it was a group decision. He said “there were a number of circumstances surrounding” the agreement, and he wasn’t sure of the final amount of Heelan’s compensation.

“We just directed Bob Spuhler (CMC vice president and acting president) to work out an equitable retirement package with Cynthia that was under certain parameters,” Dick said.

Dick added he didn’t know if Heelan’s package was comparable with those of other retiring college presidents. He said the retirement package will save the college money when a lesser-paid replacement is found.

“But that had nothing to do with it, of course,” Dick said. “Cynthia nearly worked herself to death as our president. She did a great job.”

Spuhler said the parameters trustees gave him were that Heelan had requested “some sort of financial amount each year” and continuing medical coverage. Spuhler said the agreement isn’t something other college employees with nine years of service who voluntarily leave would receive, but the college president is a unique contract.

Neither Heelan nor Summit County Trustee Dick Bateman could be reached for comment.

Heelan is the longest-serving president in CMC’s 35-year history, having held the office for nine years. She worked under a five-year contract that trustees renewed each year so that Heelan always had four years left in her contract. The trustees renewed her contract earlier this year. Heelan received a $174,000 salary, plus a $51,000 stipend that covered a car and housing allowance, as well as $15,000 to invest for retirement.

Heelan recently returned from a six-week sabbatical in China, where she presented the results of research she conducted this summer. Earlier this year, Heelan took a six-week sabbatical at Columbia University in New York City, researching community college advising systems.

Heelan, 60, was battling problems with her endocrine system that caused fatigue and were exacerbated by the high-paced, stressful lifestyle of a college president. The college has campuses in nine counties and covers 12,000 square miles.

Heelan oversaw the construction of $60 million in 11 academic centers and residence halls. She led the creation of 16 new academic programs. The school’s special district tax rate did not increase during Heelan’s run, and she successfully campaigned for a de-Bruceing measure in 2000 that allowed the college to remove income caps on the school’s tax collections.

But, according to another source close to the CMC board of trustees who wished to remain anonymous because of current ties to the college, board members and Heelan often disagreed over issues of governance and accountability. Some board members wanted more oversight in college operations. Heelan favored a policy-oriented role for the board and took on most of the day-to-day operations of the college. Last November, three new board members won elections in the Aspen, Eagle County and Summit County districts.

Following Heelan’s retirement announcement, Summit Campus dean Tim Hoopingarner said Heelan will be missed, but her retirement would not have a negative impact on the school.

The CMC board of trustees will discuss a search for the next president at its Dec. 6 meeting. Spuhler said he will apply for the job.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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