Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration is publicly questioning the leadership of Kentucky Community and Technical College System President Jay Box and plans a comprehensive review of operations in the system’s central office.
The move comes a day after KCTCS announced it would cut 500 faculty and staff positions across its 16 colleges statewide. Also on Thursday, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that former president Michael McCall — one of the highest paid community college presidents in the country — received a payout from KCTCS the year after he retired that includes $300,000 for consulting, $352,000 for unused vacation days and $124,000 in deferred compensation.
When asked for a comment on the cuts by KCTCS, Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner said he was concerned about how the system is being managed.
“In light of recent reporting, we find reason to question Dr. Box’s leadership of KCTCS,” Heiner said in a statement. “We fear that he has lost sight of KCTCS’ mission — to focus on preparing Kentuckians for the good jobs that are widely available today. Our cabinet will work with the Council on Postsecondary Education to begin a comprehensive review of KCTCS central office operations.”
Heiner said enrollment at KCTCS has dropped to 2003 levels although its budget has doubled since then. He also questioned why KCTCS had to make such big cuts when it recently moved $8.5 million from its reserve fund for operations.
KCTCS spokeswoman Terri Giltner said money was moved out of the system’s reserve fund in anticipation of a 2 percent mid-year cut ordered by Bevin this spring. A judge ruled this week that Bevin has the authority to order such cuts, though Attorney General Andy Beshear vowed to appeal that ruling to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Box, who was hired in 2014 and makes $345,000 a year, said he was taken aback by Heiner’s remarks.
“I don’t know where that is coming from,” he said while attending a college presidents’ retreat in Prestonsburg.
Box said he was honest about the impact Bevin’s original proposal of a 9 percent cut to higher education would have on KCTCS in several meetings between the university presidents and Bevin.
“The governor met with us several times to tell us about his expectation of all of us getting on board with his proposed cuts,” Box said.
KCTCS officials said this week they face a $26 million shortfall caused by declining enrollment and a decade of budget cuts from state government, including 4.5 percent over the next two years. To reduce its revenue gap, the system eliminated 506 positions: 191 faculty positions and 315 staff posts. Because many of the positions were vacant or were vacated through retirements, only 45 faculty and 125 staff were laid off.
Box was an ardent supporter this spring of a House Democratic plan to provide scholarships for community college students who need financial help. Bevin vetoed the “Work Ready” program but kept funding for it in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2017.
Box said he knew his support for the scholarship program caused some unhappiness with Republicans, but “I”m always going to be in support of lowering the costs for students to go to college.”
Bevin has shown a great interest in workforce readiness, winning legislative approval for a $100 million bond pool for workforce development projects.
“He’s a huge supporter, which makes me question the comment that we’re not focused on that,” Box said. “We’ve been very pleased the governor is putting attention on this.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Thursday that “I’ve never seen anything but excellent and professional work from President Box.”
Marcia Roth, chairwoman of the KCTCS Board of Regents, said the board welcomes any review by the state.
“The board through Dr. Box has fostered a level of transparency that we are very proud of,” Roth said. “Any review of Dr. Box’s leadership that Secretary Heiner would like to pursue would be more than welcome.”
Concerning the payout to McCall, Roth said the board honored a contract that was written six years ago. She said Box’s contract follows the same policies as other KCTCS employees.
“We have taken steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” she said.
The governor appoints eight of the 14 members of the KCTCS Board of Regents. Those members were appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear and only one regent’s term expires in 2016.
Reporter Beth Musgrave contributed to this story.
Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford