The interim LSU System president and the head of the community colleges say they likely will oppose legislation that would give more spending oversight to a single statewide board and would weaken individual institutions.
It’s the same legislation that then LSU President John Lombardi verbally eviscerated last week in front of a state House panel, two days before he was fired — a performance that was criticized by members of the LSU Board.
The bill in question is House Bill 395, which is scheduled for a debate and vote Monday by the full House.
It was crafted by the 18-member Governance Commission created by the Legislature last year to look at the structure of higher education.
And, while most of the debate has centered on how the legislation would affect four-year institutions, the president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System said on Tuesday that one aspect of the bill could punish two-year colleges for growing too quickly.
HB395 would require the state’s different management boards overseeing the LSU, Southern, University of Louisiana and Louisiana Community and Technical College systems to distribute state dollars among their campuses according to the Board of Regents’ performance-based funding formula instead of shifting money around as they see fit.
The measure’s supporters say it would strengthen accountability among the state’s colleges, reward institutions that perform well and clarify the sometimes-murky relationship between the Board of Regents and the management boards.
“If you don’t have that carrot, it’s hard to get institutions to perform,” Governance Commission member Barry Erwin said.
William Jenkins, 75, who served at LSU for about 20 years as dean of the veterinary school, provost, chancellor, then as system president, is on his way back to Baton Rouge next week to serve as interim LSU president. He arrives in the middle of what could be a protracted legislative fight.
Jenkins said he “couldn’t say no” to coming out of retirement when members of the LSU Board of Supervisors approached him about taking over for Lombardi.
He will be replacing a man the LSU Board fired on a 12-4 vote, according to some board members, because he was too outspoken to be politically effective.
But Jenkins, speaking from his retirement home in Colleyville, Texas, near Dallas, said he’s only generally familiar with HB395. “My position has to be very carefully considered, but I think it will fundamentally change the way the LSU system operates; and I don’t think it will be for the better,” he said. The legislation may be too significant a step to take right now, he said, when higher education is up against ongoing state budget cuts. “There can be hidden consequences in so many decisions taken in times of financial distress,” Jenkins said.
Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Joe May said while he’s not specifically opposed to HB395, an amendment added during a committee hearing could punish the system’s 16 colleges.
The amendment was added by HB395 sponsor, state Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, he said, as a concession to opponents. The change requires management boards to distribute 95 percent of state dollars according to the Board of Regents’ formula, giving them leeway to spend the remaining 5 percent as they see fit. But May said the set-in-stone, 5 percent number doesn’t give his system enough leeway to shift money to where it’s needed.
The Louisiana Delta Community College, for example, which opened two years ago in Monroe, saw a 33 percent growth in enrollment in one year, May said. Additionally, LCTC had seven of the fastest-growing colleges in the country last year, he said.
Having the discretion to move only 5 percent of the system’s budget around is unnecessarily rigid and unfairly punishes a system for its rapid growth, he said.
“Given our history, that’s really not enough,” May said. “We are in a unique position. We are the only system that’s growing at this point, so this is affecting us disproportionately.”
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