With the state facing down a budget shortfall that could potentially reach $2 billion, legislators and a new advocacy group brought a wide array of gripes and requests Thursday to the Board of Regents. The two dozen or so lawmakers gathered at the meeting wanted to know what the board, which oversees the higher education community, plans to do about the $300 million to $430 million in cuts that may be need to be implemented for the next fiscal year that begins July 1.
While the board’s leadership vowed to continue working with the Legislature, other members fired accountability volleys back at the lawmakers in attendance and pushed some of the blame for Louisiana’s budget woes their way.
The Board of Regents was also introduced to College Caucus, a new grassroots effort that’s led by current university students, mostly from LSU in Baton Rouge, and supplemented a membership that includes alumni, elected officials, business leaders and other stakeholders dedicated to “preserving and enhancing the quality of the state’s higher education.”
The new group argued that Louisiana suffers from systemic inefficiencies and low graduation rates, both of which have benefitted little from two years' worth of budget cuts, fewer course offerings and slashed degree programs.
In a two-page letter delivered to board members Thursday, College Caucus outlines expectations of the board, the governor’s office and state Legislature. It also promised that College Caucus will “maintain an active and communicative role with any and all interested stakeholder groups and individuals until a satisfactory and tangible plan for reform is established.”
For the most part, critics contend universities are working too diligently to dodge cuts. During the meeting, LSU System President John Lombardi presented a series of proposals that could translate into $331 million, including: • Reducing state-funded pass-through funding in the postsecondary education budgets by 21 percent • Removing the full-time cap of 12 hours for tuition purposes • Authorizing tuition to reach estimated market price within six years • Establishing a temporary fiscal stabilization surcharge
According to LSU’s proposal, these measures would reduce the budget reduction from $437 million — the reduction tally education officials are trying to plan for — to $106 million. The state’s other higher education systems offered words of support as well. “We are not proposing all of these options right now,” says Randy Moffett, president of the University of Louisiana System, which oversees UL-Lafayette. “There is still much discussion to be held between the leaders of the state and our boards. I consider this a blueprint from which we can begin discussions.”
Lawmakers counter that fee and tuition increases will be hard to swallow, especially in an election year.
Some go a step further and contend that universities can absorb more cuts than they’re letting on, reductions that could be easier to identify if the Board of Regents takes on more of a leadership role. “Where is the plan? Why haven’t we received a plan yet from Regents? I haven’t seen a thing,” said state Rep. Joe Harrison, a member of the House Education Committee. “I don’t think Regents is ready to accept what needs to be done.”
Harrison, R-Napoleonville, who was in Washington, D.C., Thursday taking part in a higher education think-tank, added that the creation of new advocacy group for student concerns is a step on the right direction — and a trend that will intensify as the April regular session draws closer. “They should have a major say in this process,” Harrison says. “They’re the ones paying for it all.”
JUNE 16 This story in the Advocate tells us that the state Department of Education is taking a look at the Course Choice program. They're doing that because the legislature (probably responding to reporting by Tom Aswell, who does not work for the Advocate) ordered them to make sure that these private companies aren't signing six-year-olds up for high school Latin classes without their parents' knowledge or consent.
JUNE 17 Columnist James Gill writes about the recent complaint of death row inmates at Angola: it's hot as you-know-what in their cells, with the heat index topping 120 for months. Since we're not executing people anymore (Gill opines) then we should probably officially end the practice of putting people on death row. The prisoners, by the way, are not asking for cool breezes: they only ask for clean water and a temp that doesn't top 88.
JUNE 17 Here's blogger Ian McGibboney's take on the Baton Rouge plan to give bus tickets to homeless people who have a home with family who live far away. Taken from one point of view, it could be a good solution for some people. But McGibboney raises some good points here, including this one: Why not improve opportunities for everybody in Baton Rouge so these people can find the jobs they came to BR for?
JUNE 17 Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry talks here about the Zimmerman trial, but the real topic is the concept of a black man being more dangerous, somehow, than a white man in a fight. It is an interesting discussion, and one that may enlighten people who think that racism doesn't exist because nobody's keeping black folks from eating at the Woolworth lunch counter.
JUNE 17 Here's an interesting column from Baton Rouge Business Report's publisher, Rolfe McCollister, about anger against the government. It's brewing because of recent revelations about the IRS and the GSA, he says. It's readable, not just for the subject, but because of McCollister's collection of sources: Huffington Post, National Review and Wikipedia. That's a combo you don't see every day.
JUNE 17 In this American Press post, Jim Beam talks about the high school diploma track that lets kids who aren't interested in university get what they want and need out of high school. The diplomas get kids ready for technical school, Beam explains, and then he goes on to give some of the numbers. Some of these numbers might really surprise people who think technical school is second best. And, Beam adds, a college diploma does not guarantee anybody a job.
JUNE 17 The Washington Post reports here that OSHA is going to investigate the explosion that occurred last week in Donaldsonville, shortly after the other fatal accident in Geismar. As soon as the site is safe, State Police will be pulling out of the Donaldsonville plant to make way for OSHA investigators, the story reports. (Hey, here's an idea: why don't they go a couple miles down the road and figure out what happened when that massive sinkhole started sucking up land.)
JUNE 17 Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board of Supervisors in this post, taking a look at the many ways board members have served Gov. Jindal and not their university or their students. The board members are esteemed members of their fields, but can't seem to do anything but say "yes" to Jindal, regardless of the cost to LSU, Mann opines.
Frank’s Casing Crew, now doing business as Frank’s International, will make its final appearance on ABiz’s list of the Top 50 Privately Held Companies in Acadiana this year, and once again, it will likely be at the top with more than $1 billion in annual revenues. The 75-year-old company specializing in tubular fabrication and installation services to the oil and gas industry plans to go public this year.
The defeat, or rather highjacking of House Bill 420 in the final days of this year's Legislative Session, say Reps. Vincent Pierre and Terry Landry, is the result of the propaganda spread by one unidentified local media outlet and an unnamed former state Representative, but nothing to do with the original legislation's lack of checks, balances or details.
He’s a singer. A songwriter. A piano man. A family man. He’s even got his own Wikipedia entry. He’s David Egan. And he knows ancient secrets about the monolithic stones of Stonehenge that he’s not willing to share.