As previous posts have noted, there are serious issues at stake at Erie Community College. The school is a key player in the economic prosperity of the region, but it has been struggling financially and continues to do so. It also has management issues. It is about to undergo a change in leadership. Does the school’s Board of Trustees know where it wants that person to take the school?
The state audit
About ten months ago the Office of the State Comptroller issued an audit that strongly criticized the management of the school. School leadership originally tried to paint the report as much ado about nothing.
The audit goes to the heart of the school’s management and operations. It details a board that ignored its fiduciary responsibilities. It details a college president who had been running the place pretty much as he saw fit.
The audit questioned how salaries of senior staff have been determined and hidden from the Board of Trustees, students and general public view. It raised concerns about procurement practices and the lack of accountability.
The audit detailed how two subsidiary organizations have channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars back to the college while lacking oversight by the College Board.
Last April the school pledged to act on problems in these main categories:
- Board oversight, including improved transparency
- Reform of procedures concerning executive salaries and benefits
- Reform of procurement procedures
- Improved control and monitoring of the two affiliated organizations
How many of those commitments to reform have been met is not evident from anything that the school has publicized. You might think that the school would like to brag about all it has accomplished, but what has actually been done?
A review of the Board minutes might indicate what progress has been made on these projects, except that there are no posted Board minutes on the College’s website. What you will find there if you search for Board minutes are links to videos of past meetings since last February, when the Board announced that that they would operate more transparently. The videos run between one and three-quarters hours to over three and a half hours if you’re interested and don’t bore easily. Please note, however, that if you click on meetings prior to May 26 you will find no videos. If you click on the link that says “Board Agendas” you will find nothing. So it appears that the school’s Board or administration have tried to create the appearance of transparency without really being transparent.
One can hope that the reforms to which the Board committed itself are being worked on. Many of them had specific deadlines for completion. What is the status of their corrective action plan? Does the State Comptroller’s Office have a process for ensuring that audited organizations are complying? Maybe the County Legislature or the County Comptroller could seek answers to those questions.
The operations and strategic planning committee
A second opportunity for reform came in the form of a plan by County Executive Mark Poloncarz. He proposed last February that the college and the county government, as the sponsor of the school, form a ten member committee consisting of five college representatives and five county government representatives. The mission of the committee would be to review and recommend changes in the operations and management of the school.
Poloncarz proposed that the committee “examine issues related to the current operating and future direction of the college, especially as it pertains to long-term campus infrastructure needs, as well as examining operational issues detrimental to the county, such as community college chargebacks, location of classes to better address student needs, transportation, etc.”
Poloncarz suggested the group eight months ago. College leadership just last week finally got around to appointing their five members. The County Executive named his five representatives in early September.
The college’s appointees include a Trustee, the chair of the faculty senate, plus three members of the management staff of the school. The county representatives include three county administrators plus County Legislator Kevin Hardwick and the director of the Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board. There is no word yet about when the group will start functioning or what their agenda will be.
A new president
Finally, the Board of Trustees must find a new leader for the school. President Jack Quinn will retire next June.
It appears at this time that the Board may be searching for a search firm to assist them in finding a new president. Such searches for a college usually take a considerable amount of time. Even after some finalists are identified there is usually a vetting process involving not only the Board, but also the students and faculty. Since county taxpayers contribute substantially to the school, the general community should have an opportunity to be introduced to the potential president as well.
One additional side note: the deal that the school arranged with START-UP NY to create some sort of an affiliation with investment behemoth BlackRock seems to be in limbo. There were some recent reports about the University at Buffalo and other local colleges arranging projects with various businesses, but ECC was not on the list.
ECC began its 2016 fall semester with fewer students than anticipated. The school is heavily dependent on tuition paid by students, so lower enrollment means additional unanticipated financial issues. Enrollment at ECC is directly related to both the local population and to the perceived need of local residents for the benefits that ECC’s academic programs offer.
At best, there does not seem to be any sense of urgency on the part of the ECC leadership to move along with a reform agenda. Time’s a wasting.
Some political notes
- My email inbox continues to overflow with messages from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, their committees, their families, and their surrogates. Messages arrive all day from Marco Rubio, to the point that I worry that something has happened to him if I have not heard from him in the past hour. Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Ben Carson and Scott Walker also send messages for Marco. The thing is, all of these messages are asking for money. It’s November 4th, four days before the election. What do they plan to do with the money between now and Tuesday?
- Perhaps the Trump campaign could scrape up a few of those dollars to pay Michael Caputo. You will recall that Michael left the campaign after campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired last June. Michael received a penalty that seems to be the equivalent of an NFL player doing some excessive celebrating in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reported yesterday that the Trump campaign still owed Caputo some money. I have to say after occasionally watching Lewandowski comment on CNN roundtables that Michael was completely right about him. Thank goodness that Caputo has his Erie County Water Authority and WBEN gigs to hold him over.
- Interim DA Michael Flaherty’s endorsement this week of Republican candidate Joseph Treanor seems like classic sour grapes. The letter he distributed yesterday to the DA staff explaining his actions also shows that he cannot let go of the election he lost.