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2010 October 4 - 12:00 am

POLITICS & POLICY: Keep Us in the Loop, Rebuilding State Board Tells Chancellor in Ala.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — State school board members, trying to rebuilt trust after a corrupt two-year college chancellor, told Alabama’s new chancellor that they want to be consulted on large decisions and not hear about her actions from someone else.

The State Board of Education held an unusual daylong meeting where complaints were aired. Gov. Bob Riley, president of the board, made a rare appearance to voice support for Chancellor Freida Hill.

“You are doing a great job,” Riley told Hill.

The board scheduled the special meeting after board members found out that Hill was working on combining the job training program for existing industries, the Alabama Technology Network, into the job training program for new and expanding industries, Alabama Industrial Development Training.

Hill apologized and said she was planning on discussing it with the board, but word leaked out before she had the opportunity.

“This is an item that needed to come before this board,” Democratic board member Mary Jane Caylor told the chancellor.

Hill and Riley said combining the programs would provide more seamless job training and has been discussed off an on for several years. But for now, the move is still in the discussion stage.

Republican board member David Byers said two previous chancellors hired by the board, Roy Johnson and Bradley Byrne, made large decisions without consulting the board, and the board now wants clear policies about the chancellor’s authority, including discussing whether to place a limit on the size of contracts the chancellor can sign without consulting the elected board.

“Many of us feel we’ve been way too hands off for different reasons in the past,” he said.

The board pushed out Johnson in 2006 amid a corruption scandal that led to him pleading guilty to 15 federal charges, including money laundering and bribery. The board hired Byrne, a Mobile lawyer and state senator, in 2007, and he left in 2009 to run for governor. Despite having Riley’s support, he lost the Republican runoff for governor in July.

The board hired Hill last year from Georgia’s Technical College System, and she began her $289,000-a-year job in December.

The meeting was more than an airing of gripes. The leader of the accreditation agency for Alabama’s two-year colleges attended to talk about the relationship that should exist between a chancellor and school board.

Belle S. Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges at the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, said mistakes by past chancellors are affecting the board’s relationship with Hill.

She also pointed out that Alabama is the only state in the South that still uses one school board to set policy for K-12 schools statewide and two-year colleges. Other states have gone to separate boards, she said.

Hill said she hoped the meeting would build trust between her and the board.

“I still like my job — believe it or not,” she said.   


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