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2011 July 11 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Audit Report Cites La. Board of Regents’ Weaknesses

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s top higher education board hasn’t updated a constitutionally required “master plan” for state colleges and universities in 10 years, the state Legislative Auditor’s Office says in a new report that outlines numerous political and legal factors that muddle the board’s mission and weaken its ability to do its job.

In its response, the state Board of Regents takes issue with some of the findings in the audit report, noting, for instance, that parts of the master plan have been updated from time to time and that other states’ master plans are five- to 10-year plans. The board agreed with the report’s finding, however, that laws clarifying the board’s role are a good idea.

The report was made public near the end of a legislative session that saw the failure of efforts to consolidate the state’s five higher education boards into a single body. The report doesn’t call for consolidation but suggests changes for the Legislature to consider in future sessions.

More clarity is needed in budgeting for universities, the report said. Legislators appropriate money for colleges and universities and the Board of Regents has a role in creating a formula to distribute the money. But state law gives each of the board’s governing the different education systems — LSU, Southern, University of Louisiana and the Community and Technical Colleges system — authority to spend and allocate the money appropriated, the report notes.

Plans for distributing funds are part of what is supposed to be included in the Board of Regents’ master plan for higher education. That plan also is supposed to include a broad statement of long-term policy and goals and an outline of the role, scope and mission of each institution. But the Board of Regents hasn’t updated its master plan since 2001, according to the audit.

While the constitution calls for the Regents to have a master plan, there is no specific deadline for updating or replacing it, according to the audit. Historically it has been done every 10 years, but there was an effort to update the latest plan in 2006. Still that effort did not result in an updated plan, for a variety of reasons cited in the report, including changes in Regents leadership in 2008.

Lawmakers should consider legislation spelling out what constitutes a “timely” update of the master plan, the performance audit suggested.

In its response, the Board of Regents disagreed, saying a master plan should not be routinely changed. “Instead of redefining ‘timely,’ the Legislature may wish to require a regular report on the achievement of the Master Plan goals and BoR’s analysis of the appropriateness of the goals in the Master Plan, including the institutions’ mission statements.”

Comments: ccweekblog

Also from KEVIN McGILL, Associated Press

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