Community college president to return $3,900 bonus

Wachusett official said money paid out mistakenly

THE PRESIDENT of Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner gave himself a bonus last year, but said it was a mistake and he would give the money back.

James Vander Hooven apparently learned of the unauthorized bonus on December 2, 2021 after a reporter inquired about $3,900 in “other pay” the president had received, according to the state comptroller’s website.

Vander Hooven wrote to the college’s board of trustees a week later, explaining what happened. “When I authorized a 2 percent bonus to all non-unit (non-union) employees in August, I also received that bonus as a non-union employee of the college,” Vander Hooven wrote. “Obviously, I am not authorized to give myself a bonus without full approval of the board of trustees.”

Vander Hooven, who makes $195,000 a year — the next to the lowest of all the 15 state community college presidents — said that the bonus was in the process of being returned to the college.

“It will never happen again,” Vander Hooven told the board. “It remains to be seen how this response will be received in the media. I accept full responsibility for the oversight and apologize to the board if this causes embarrassment or concern.”

Prying information on the payroll discrepancy out of Mount Wachusett wasn’t easy. Two public records requests and one public records appeal with the state supervisor of public records had to be filed. And when Peter Sennet, the college’s vice president of human resources, was asked what the “other pay” was for, he responded initially that it was a bonus payment, without disclosing that it was unauthorized.

Only after another query did Sennet disclose that the payment was an error and was being corrected. Asked why he withheld that information initially, Sennet said, “I was responding to the . . . inquiry re: what was the $3,900 payment for?”