Opelika-Auburn News Keeps Digging Into Two-Year College Finances

As someone who first saw his name on a newspaper article more than 50 years ago I still appreciate when an industrious reporter, backed wholeheartedly by their employer, keeps digging and digging.,  It’s something that doesn’t happen that much these days because everyone is into instant gratification, not in-depth news.

(I can think of no better example than the fascination Donald Trump apparently has with Twitter.)

Reporter Meagan Hurley of the Opelika-Auburn News has been digging relentlessly for several months after news surfaced that the community college system planned to merge schools headquartered in Alexander City, Opelika and Phenix City.  This was unwelcome news for many folks, especially supporters of Southern Union College.

So Meagan started asking questions, looking at financial info and making requests for documentation through the Freedom of Information Act.  This is the latest in her series.

Titled Two-year college system chief of staff paid more than $500k since 2014, here is some of what she reported.

“The man who now serves as the Alabama Community College System board of trustees’ chief of staff has been paid more than half a million dollars for his services since 2014, records show.

Jimmy Baker, a former lobbyist for the state’s two-year college system who was named its chief of staff this year, was compensated approximately $384,000 by Calhoun and Enterprise community colleges in 2014 and 2015, according to contracts he held with the schools for professional and governmental consulting services.

Baker has been paid $121,875 by the system office since Jan. 27 as the board’s chief of staff.

His consulting contracts compensation and his current salary combined total $505,875.”

She goes into detail about various contracts this system has for governmental affairs services.

Obviously there are some folks who do not appreciate this kind of journalistic diligence.  But the public is well-served when we have it.



Hey, It’s Just Money

Every now and then mama used to say that something “just flew all over me.”  Meaning that she was not a happy camper.

That was certainly my reaction recently when I learned that Central Alabama Community College is paying $79,400 to a national firm to come up with a new name for the two-year institution created by the merger of Central Alabama, Southern Union State Community College and Chattahoochee Valley Community College.

The company selected is Stamats of Cedar Rapids, IA.  They have a higher education division.  According to their web site, Stamats is recognized and respected as the nation’s higher education marketing thought leader. Our comprehensive array of innovative products and services has set the standard for pairing insightful, research-based strategic counsel with compelling creative solutions.

Our goal is to help you work smarter, not harder.

Thanks to good reporting by the Opelika-Auburn News, we know that Stamats will charge an hourly rate of $96 to $300.

No doubt this is a great company with some highly talented folks.  But why are we re-naming institutions that have been around for decades?  In fact, the campus for Southern Union at Wadley was established in 1922.

News of this consolidation has drawn the attention of a number of folks, especially in Opelika.  My longtime friend, mayor Gary Fuller, does not see the merit in what is being proposed.  “We have the largest and oldest of these three schools, yet the powers-that-be in Montgomery want to change its name,” he says.  “What am I missing?”

Some might say he is missing the politics of higher education in Alabama.  Last year the legislature created an appointed Board of Trustees for the Alabama Community College System and removed the elected State Board of Education from having oversight.  (Legislation was drafted in the last regular session to also make the State Board of Education appointed.)  Some would content that this move means the two-year college board is now less concerned about local sentiment since they do not stand for election.

Combined the three schools have 8,168 students.  But Southern Union has more than the other two put together.  In fact, they have 58 percent of the total enrollment  So it does appear that the tail is wagging the dog..

I understand consolidation.  But the University of Alabama is a system, with three campuses.  When the schools in Birmingham and Huntsville came on line, did anyone mention changing the name of the University of Alabama?

Why not do that in east Alabama?  Keep the present names of all three.

And be smart and save the $80,000..