Fasano calls for dismantling Board of Regents after decision to close Meriden college branch

April 3, 2015

Record Journal

MERIDEN — Senate Minority Leader Leonard Fasano, R-East Haven, on Friday blasted the state college and university system’s Board of Regents and called on state Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, to join Republicans in a push to eliminate the board.

But Fasano also blamed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for setting the tone for the board’s action when he approved raises for administrators making more than $100,000 annually, then pitched a budget that drastically cuts funding to colleges and universities.
Malloy “set the course,” Fasano said. “This is an agency that’s out of control. The governor put this in and now he’s turning his back.”

Fasano was responding to reports that the Board of Regents sought and received more than $700,000 in raises for college and university presidents, administrators and managers two months before announcing it would shut down the Meriden Center and Precision Manufacturing Institute. The board cited the need to make up a $20 million shortfall in funding for the state college and university system in Malloy’s proposed budget.

Wednesday’s announcement shocked lawmakers and city officials who said the college and university system’s budget hadn’t even come before the legislative Appropriations Committee. Bartolomeo, chairwoman of the Higher Education & Employment Advancement Committee, introduced a bill Thursday calling for a cap on the Board of Regents’ spending.

“The Board of Regents is making a drastic decision without adequate information, and I will fight to keep this open,” Bartolomeo said Thursday. “Board of Regents President Dr. Gregory Gray has signed off on hundreds of thousands of dollars in raises for his staff and expensive studies in recent months, but claims he can’t afford to keep this school open?”

Fasano said the final spending bill that comes out of the legislature is not going to resemble the governor’s proposed budget, and he accused the board of harming the very students it’s supposed to serve.

Fasano challenged Bartolomeo to take it further and get the Democratic votes needed to eliminate the Board of Regents, which he accused of being “unable to trim the fat” in both college and university presidents’ salaries and administrative costs. This includes spending $1.8 million to hire an out-of-state consulting firm to recommend a higher education plan for the state’s future.

Fasano said he never supported the creation of the board, but efforts to dismantle it have been blocked by Democrats.

“If she (Bartolomeo) wants to take on the Board of Regents, she has a lot of friends on the other side of the aisle,” Fasano said.

The Board of Regents for Higher Education has been mired with problems since Malloy created it four years ago to consolidate the higher education system. Its original President Robert A. Kennedy, recruited by Malloy, was forced to resign in 2012 after disclosures he unilaterally approved 21 executive pay raises worth $300,000 without board approval.

The raises came at a time when state employees faced a pay freeze, and bi-partisan members of the legislature called for Kennedy’s ouster. That issue, combined with the $1.8 million spent on the outside consultant, has led some lawmakers to call the board an expensive and unnecessary administrative layer.

According to NPR, state Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Republican representing, Norwalk, Wilton, and Westport, co-sponsored a bill that sought to dissolve the board in February.

“You have to look at the big picture and see if this really is leading to more affordable, more accessible, better services, better education,” Lavielle told NPR. “It’s not a question of blaming anyone for it. It’s a confluence of different things. A lot of ambiguity about whose mission is what, and who is supposed to be doing what, and how much money is actually being saved, and is this turning into a good thing for students.”

Lavielle told the public radio station that she wasn’t as concerned about the bill passing as she was about lawmakers getting more information from the board. The bill never got a hearing.

Gray and other representatives from the Connecticut State College and University System were unavailable for comment. Representatives from Malloy’s office were also unavailable. State offices were closed Friday for the Good Friday holiday.

However, spokesman Michael Kozlowski said Thursday the CSCU system office had reduced staff by 33.5 positions, saving the system and the state $7.9 million. In fiscal year 2015 alone, the office has absorbed budget cuts and holdbacks totaling $7.4 million. In response to the proposed budget currently under consideration by the General Assembly, the office will decrease its operating budget further, as part of a plan to close a $48.6 million gap for fiscal year 2016.

The decision to close the Meriden Center and the manufacturing training program in the city was based on the governor’s proposed budget.

Bartolomeo responded to Fasano’s challenge Friday by text message.

“My co-chair Rep. Roberta Willis and I will certainly be discussing the direction the BOR has gone and the direction it needs to take in the future,” she said. “But first we need to get through this budget problem without dismantling our community college system and our very successful manufacturing and employment advancement programs; and prevent our students from being disenfranchised.”