Regents question LCTCS effort

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Joe May on Thursday defended efforts to seek funding directly from the state Legislature, rather than going through the Board of Regents, which oversees spending and policy for higher education institutions. Woody Ogé, a LCTCS board member, is left.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Joe May on Thursday defended efforts to seek funding directly from the state Legislature, rather than going through the Board of Regents, which oversees spending and policy for higher education institutions. Woody Ogé, a LCTCS board member, is left.

The Louisiana Board of Regents on Thursday scolded the head of the state’s community and technical colleges for violating the state constitution by seeking money for construction projects outside the capital outlay system.

Capital outlay is the state’s construction funding program.

After the hearing, Joe May, the president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said that he still would recommend the LCTCS board continue to pursue passage of Senate Bill 204 despite a unanimous motion from the regents, the state’s higher education policy board.

SB204 would allow LCTCS to avoid the state construction budget process that forces hundreds of projects to compete for limited dollars.

Colleges would find private partners for portions of the expense and then borrow money against the state’s general fund for the rest.

The bill would provide the means to fund $251.6 million for 28 specific LCTCS construction projects, including $92 million for Delgado Community College and $39.7 million for Baton Rouge Community College.

Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, sponsored SB204. In an interview after the meeting, he said he would continue to push the legislation, which is currently pending before the Senate Finance committee. Alone among higher education institutions in Louisiana, Adley said, the community and technical colleges have been successful in growing enrollments and expanding to meet the needs of training people for jobs.

“I’m mad about it,” Adley said about the regents’ motion. “Every time someone tries to do something that is good, they get afraid … They’re only trying to protect their turf.”

Regents Chairman W. Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry Jr. said the legislation was an end-run around the board’s capital outlay procedures, which are set in the state constitution.

As the oversight body for the LSU, Southern, University of Louisiana and LCTC systems, the regents are charged with considering the construction needs of all the higher education systems, prioritizing those requests, then going the Louisiana Legislature for authority to raise money for the projects.

Rasberry, in calling May one of the three best politicians in the city, said the LCTCS president failed to understand the harsh feelings among the officials of the other systems engendered by attempting to corral the bulk of a limited amount of construction funding.

“The Board of Regents will be in opposition to this,” Rasberry said.

May said the precedent of getting funding for LCTCS through legislation separate from the other higher education systems began before he arrived in Louisiana in 2007.

Since 2000, enrollment at community and technical colleges has increased by 87 percent to 75,567 students, according to LCTCS statistics.

Edwards Barham, of Oak Ridge, said back in 1999, the community and technical colleges operated in abandoned stores and unused university buildings. Since then, campuses like at Baton Rouge Community College, have been built and enrollments have grown.

“It would be impossible to get where we are, absent this alternative financing,” said Barham, a former regent who now serves on the LCTCS board.

Because the funding could not meet the growth necessary, Barham said, Govs. Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal approved more than $366 million in funding for community college facilities outside the traditional capital outlay process.

State Treasurer John N. Kennedy testified that he is opposed to creating loans outside the regular procedures.

“Once we start doing this, I feel confident saying that others will want to do it,” Kennedy said. In fact, the presidents of the LSU, Southern and the University of Louisiana systems, all of whom attended the hearing, would probably have no choice but to seek authority to acquire loans for construction projects, he said.