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State board names interim 2-year chancellor

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY - For the second time in nine months, the state Board of Education has tapped a Gadsden college president to serve as interim two-year college chancellor.

"It's déjà vu all over again," said board Vice President Sandra Ray, D-Tuscaloosa. The board met Friday to appoint a replacement for Thomas Corts, who was interim chancellor for seven months before resigning Wednesday.

Renee Culverhouse, president of Gadsden State Community College, will step into the post, which she filled temporarily in July after the board terminated former Post-Secondary Chancellor Roy Johnson.

Corts, a retired Samford University president whom the board had expected to be chancellor for at least 18 months, resigned Feb. 28 in a letter to Gov. Bob Riley. Board members learned about his resignation from Riley or by e-mail.

The vote for Culverhouse wasn't unanimous. Republicans Stephanie Bell of Montgomery, Randy McKinney of Gulf Shores and Betty Peters of Dothan wanted a temporary appointment to manage day-to-day departmental needs for a few days. They proposed discussing options for an interim chancellor at the board's next work session.

Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville, nominated Culverhouse. Caylor said the system needs a chancellor in place now who knows the system and can explain its needs to the Legislature, which goes into session Tuesday.

Republican David Byers of Birmingham and Democrats Ella Bell of Montgomery, Ethel Hall of Midfield and Sandra Ray of Tuscaloosa voted with Caylor.

The length of Culverhouse's tenure is uncertain, but she could serve until August, said Ray. The board expects to begin a national search for a permanent chancellor soon.

Directive questioned

The board also approved Caylor's resolution calling on the interim chancellor to rescind and investigate her predecessor's last-day directive on spending one-time funds that the Legislature appropriated in 2006.

Stephanie Bell said Wednesday that she had confirmed that Corts released at least $17 million to Alabama Industrial Development Training, part of a disbursement of as much as $30 million. Bell said Corts ordered the release at Riley's request.

Most board members said they first learned about the directive in the news media.

"This is not to question Dr. Corts' honesty or integrity," Caylor said. "It is to give us information on what was done."

In 2006, the Legislature appropriated $57 million in one-time funds to be used at the chancellor’s discretion. One of Culverhouse’s first actions last summer was to direct the system’s college presidents not to spend or make plans for funds that Johnson had promised them as part of that appropriation.

But last fall, Corts told the state board that he was unsure how much of the legislature’s allocation was actually available to the colleges because obligations Johnson had made.

Finance Director Jim Main said Friday that Riley wanted $30 million earmarked for work-force development programs, but Corts disagreed. Main said that, after negotiations, Corts and Riley agreed on distributing $20 million to two-year colleges and $20 million to work-force development programs, with the remaining $17 million undecided.

Main said Corts’ directive Wednesday gave the finance department direction on spending the appropriation but no money was transferred to other departments.

“No money changed hands,” Main said.

“What Dr. Corts did was intended to clarify, not muddy the waters,” he added.

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