Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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Galey bill would strip authority from school boards, governor to make community college trustee appointments

“I think the world of [ACC president Dr. Algie] Gatewood and [both (alamance and randolph community college) boards of trustees].  If everyone in the state were doing as great a job with workforce development as Alamance County, then this bill would not be needed.  I’ve come to understand that is not true: that, of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina, there are too many that operate as little fiefdoms, and the president is essentially unaccountable.”

– State senator Amy scott Galey

Senator Amy Scott Galey, a Republican who represents Alamance County and part of Randolph County in the General Assembly, has filed a bill that would significantly reshape how the state’s 58 community colleges – including Alamance Community College – are governed.

The most substantive change proposed under the bill, titled “Community College Governance” – which Galey and two other senate Republicans sponsored – would shift how members of local boards of community college trustees are appointed.

State senator Amy Scott Galey

The bill would eliminate altogether any future trustee appointments by the governor and local school boards. Instead, that power would be transferred to the General Assembly while keeping the authority for boards of county commissioners to make four appointments; local community college trustee boards would continue to have 12 members.

The bill would leave unchanged the authority of local boards of commissioners to make annual appointments to the community college board of trustees. But the authority for the governor and local school boards to make similar appointments would be eliminated, with those appointments for a total of eight seats on each community college board transferred to the General Assembly.

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Currently, the governor’s office, board of commissioners, and the school board are each responsible for appointing four trustees, whose terms are staggered so that approximately one-quarter of all seats on the 58 community college trustee boards expire each year.

[Terms for three ACC trustees – Pete Glidewell, Carl Steinbicker, and Blake Williams – are set to expire on June 30 of this year.]

[Story continues below appointment chart for ACC.]

Instead, Senate Bill 692 would give the authority for appointing local community college trustees to the General Assembly (which would be responsible for appointing eight trustees to each board) and each county’s board of commissioners (which would appoint four). At least two trustees appointed by the General Assembly would be based on a recommendation by the speaker of the state house (a post currently held by Republican Tim Moore) and one person recommended by the senate president pro tem (currently held by Republican Phil Berger).

“You get boards of trustees that are handpicked, essentially, by the president, and they will rubber-stamp whatever the president wants to do.  If he or she isn’t doing what they’re supposed to, they don’t get fired, and ultimately the students and employers suffer.”

– State senator Amy Scott Galey

This bill was in no way prompted by anything at Alamance Community College or Randolph Community College, both of which are located within her senate district, Galey repeatedly emphasized Wednesday in an interview with The Alamance News. “I have a great relationship with Alamance and Randolph Community College,” Galey said. “I think the world of [ACC president Dr. Algie] Gatewood and [both boards of trustees]. If everyone in the state were doing as great a job with workforce development as Alamance County, then this bill would not be needed. I’ve come to understand that is not true: that, of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina, there are too many that operate as little fiefdoms, and the president is essentially unaccountable.

“I know there will be concerns about how does this impact us locally, but I think people understand that, even though we have a great working relationship in Alamance County, that’s not true everywhere in the state . . . It’s not like I’m mad, trying to tip over the Scrabble table because I don’t like the words on it.  There is absolutely zero personal drama in this bill for me.”

– State senator Amy Scott Galey

“You get boards of trustees that are handpicked, essentially, by the president, and they will rubber-stamp whatever the president wants to do,” Galey elaborated in the interview. “If he or she isn’t doing what they’re supposed to, they don’t get fired, and ultimately the students and employers suffer.”

The bill doesn’t explain the mechanics of how appointments would work at the county level, given that there are 100 boards of county commissioners but only 58 trustee boards, one for each community college.

The bill stipulates that, for community colleges serving two or more counties, trustees would be jointly elected by the boards of commissioners for all of the affected counties, with each board having one vote. (It would be up to a senior resident superior court judge to appoint someone if multiple commissioner boards were unable to reach a majority vote on an appointment.)

However, the multi-county provision likely would not apply to any future commissioner appointments to the board of trustees at ACC, which operates exclusively within Alamance County.

For community college trustees who are already seated, the changes would take effect at the expiration of their terms.

 

Bill would require NCCCS president to be confirmed by the General Assembly
Another substantive change in the bill is a requirement for future presidents of the NCCCS system to be confirmed by the General Assembly.

The bill, however, would continue to authorize the State Board of Community Colleges (SBCC) to elect a president, from a slate of three final candidates, and forward the name of the candidate who receives a majority of votes to the General Assembly for a vote on a joint resolution to either confirm or deny appointment.

Apparently, it’s been rocky at the top: the NCCCS has had six presidents and/or interim presidents in the last seven years.

William S. Carver was selected as the interim NCCCS president last July, after Thomas Stith resigned that month after serving less than two years as system president.

Stith’s tenure followed that of Peter Hans, who served as NCCCS president from May 2018 until August 2020 but left to become the UNC System president. Prior to Hans’ tenure, Jennifer Haygood (the system’s former chief finance officer), served as acting interim president from 2017 until 2018; her interim tenure was preceded by Jimmie Williamson, who was NCCCS president from 2016 until 2017; and George Fouts served as interim president from 2015 until 2016.

This provision would elevate the community colleges system to a cabinet-level type of institution, Galey explained in the interview. “We confirm the head of DEQ [the state Department of Environmental Quality], commerce department,” she said. “This elevates the importance of the community colleges [system] so that it gets that special attention.”

 

State board members would be elected by General Assembly
The bill also would require General Assembly to elect all state board (SBCC) members, who are currently appointed by the state house, senate, governor, lieutenant governor, and state treasurer. The state board also would shrink from its current number, 22 members, to 18 members.

Instead, the state senate would appoint or elect nine members; and the state house would appoint or elect nine members of the state board. In the event of a vacancy, the chairman of the SBCC would be required to report the vacancy to the chamber that originally filled the seat in order to elect someone to serve out the remainder of the term.

The bill would also create mandatory contract terms of between one and four years for all 58 community college presidents; the state board would continue to have the final authority to approve the hiring of individual community college presidents.

The Community College Governance bill also includes a provision that would require SBCC approval for all new employment contracts and contract renewals for community college presidents.

ACC’s trustee board has historically hired its president on an annual contract, which is generally reviewed and discussed in closed session in February of each year as part of the president’s annual job performance evaluation.

ACC’s trustees conducted their most recent job performance evaluation for president Dr. Algie Gatewood in February of this year. After convening in closed session for more than an hour, the trustees took no action upon returning to open session.

Customarily, the chairman of ACC’s board announces at the board’s meeting in May whether the president has been offered a one-year extension (renewal) of his employment contract, and whether it has been accepted. ACC’s trustees also typically vote on any proposed increase in the president’s compensation at their first meeting of each fiscal year (in August), or their first board meeting that occurs after the county and/or state budgets have been adopted.

Like other legislative changes being proposed for the state’s K-12 public schools, the “Community College Governance” bill that Galey is sponsoring also would require SBCC approval of any new courses.

Adding new checks and balances to the governance structure of the community colleges system is critical to meeting the current and future demands for trained workers in North Carolina, Galey told the newspaper.

“Workforce development is possibly the most critical issue facing North Carolina in the near future,” Galey said in the interview. “Because of our resources, we’ve done an amazing job recruiting new companies; we’ve got to make sure we have a native labor pool that is educated and equipped to fill those jobs.”

Asked what she meant by “native labor pool,” Galey specifically said she wants to ensure training and jobs are available to people born and raised in North Carolina.

“I’ve spent a lot of time going to meetings about workforce development.  People talk and talk and talk about it; it’s time to stop talking and start making some hard decisions that are going to improve this situation.  This bill is not a magic wand that is going to make all the problems disappear, but it’s going to help.”

– State senator Amy Scott Galey

“If we don’t have a local talent pool, then employers are going to have to import workers from other states,” Galey said. “That drives up the cost of housing, increases traffic, and puts more burden[s] on our schools and healthcare system. We would all be better off if we have a community college system that is responsive to the needs of employers and produces a trained workforce. I’ve spent a lot of time going to meetings about workforce development.

People talk and talk and talk about it; it’s time to stop talking and start making some hard decisions that are going to improve this situation. This bill is not a magic wand that is going to make all the problems disappear, but it’s going to help.”

 

Galey gave ACC and ABSS officials a heads up about the bill
“As the bill was being filed, I called Dr. Gatewood and [school board chairman Sandy] Ellington-Graves to tell [them] it was being filed,” Galey said in the interview. “I know there will be concerns about how does this impact us locally, but I think people understand that, even though we have a great working relationship in Alamance County, that’s not true everywhere in the state. It’s possible where people fuss the most is where the reform is actually needed the most. A really good community college president can work with whoever they’re given to work with and really shouldn’t be too concerned about the changes. I emphasize, again, that I have total respect for Dr. Gatewood, and I think he does an amazing job.”

Galey conceded that she has heard concerns from her constituents about taking away the Alamance-Burlington school board’s authority to appoint future members of ACC’s trustee board. “They feel it works really well in Alamance County,” she said.

Meanwhile, Galey said she’d researched the current governance structure for the NCCCS and learned that, until around 1979, the community colleges system had been housed under the umbrella of the State Board of Education (SBE), which today is solely responsible for overseeing North Carolina’s 115 public school systems. At some point, Galey said, the community colleges system was pulled out and made a separate, standalone institution. As part of that, appointments to boards of trustees were divided to multiple local branches of government, including school boards, she said.

“I believe that was a political decision,” Galey said. “In Alamance, it’s worked out, but that’s not true of other places.

“I don’t have a turf war with anybody over community colleges, but we’ve got to look at the underlying structure of the system for the state of North Carolina, and the foundation, where it’s not working well,” Galey said. “We’ve got to address that so we have a job-ready workforce.

“I think the reason I have the support and encouragement with this bill from senate leadership is a reflection of the good working relationship I have with Alamance Community College,” the senator summarized. “It’s not like I’m mad, trying to tip over the Scrabble table because I don’t like the words on it. There is absolutely zero personal drama in this bill for me.”

ACC president Dr. Algie Gatewood made no mention of the pending community college governance bill, nor any other pending legislation that could potentially affect the college’s operations, during the trustees’ latest meeting Monday night; nor did the trustees.

Gatewood told The Alamance News in a subsequent interview Tuesday afternoon that “it would inappropriate” for him to comment on the bill at this time.

Meanwhile, Galey acknowledged that she wouldn’t be surprised if Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, doesn’t veto the bill but added, “I’m confident we can override a veto.”

Filed last Thursday, the “Community College Governance” bill is sponsored by two other Republican state senators: Todd Johnson, whose district includes Cabarrus and Union counties; and Tom McInnis, whose district includes Cumberland and Moore counties.


See other coverage of ACC: 

Contractor selected for Bill and Nancy Covington Education Center: https://alamancenews.com/acc-trustees-award-construction-contract-to-central-builders-for-mobile-classrooms-on-47-acre-farm/

First two buildings completed with 2018 bond referendum funds now open: https://alamancenews.com/acc-opens-first-two-bond-funded-facilities/

ACC hopes to consider regional center with Guilford, Randolph county community colleges: https://alamancenews.com/acc-hopes-to-launch-regional-center-for-green-jobs-training/

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