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College leaders gave money to school board campaigns

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Two-year college presidents have given campaign contributions to five of the eight current members of the state school board, which oversees the two-year college system.

The Birmingham News reported Friday that the donations, ranging from $20 to $2,000, have totaled more than $21,000 since 2002, and board members are divided over whether they represent a conflict of interest or not.

Calhoun contributors

In 2006, Calhoun Community College President Marilyn Beck gave two contributions, one of $200 and one of $150, to District 8 board member Mary Jane Caylor, whose district includes Calhoun.

Mary Yarbrough, Calhoun's dean of Technologies/Workforce Development, gave Caylor $50 in 2006.

"I think it's a conflict," said board member Randy McKinney of Orange Beach, who doesn't accept money from system officials. "I think our college presidents are too involved in politics and should be more involved in the academics and business of their colleges."

Board members Ethel Hall of Birmingham and Betty Peters of Dothan also received no contributions from system officials.

The Alabama Education Association offers the bulk of the campaign money for school board races, but college presidents and other system employees are among the largest sources of contributions outside the AEA, the News said.

Some college officials give money, while others help with campaigns of board members.

Allen Champion, who is supported by Birmingham board member David Byers to be president of Snead State Community College in Boaz, organized a campaign event for Byers last year.

"Allen Champion has been a friend of mine for probably 10 years," Byers said, "even before I had any idea he wanted to be a college president."

Some college presidents, including interim Chancellor Renee Culverhouse from Gadsden State Community College, have suggested that board members change state law to weaken the chancellor's authority, a move that would increase the power of college presidents.

Culverhouse gave the most among presidents, donating $2,150 since 2002 to Caylor, the Huntsville board member who was among those criticizing the work of interim Chancellor Thomas Corts.

She supported Culverhouse as Corts' replacement after he resigned.

Caylor, who received $10,675 from college presidents and other employees since 2002, said she doesn't believe they should be prohibited from contributing to board members. No one who contributes can influence her, Caylor said.

Linda Young, president of George C. Wallace Community College, said she twice contributed $100 to Caylor and also gave $100 in 2004 to board member Stephanie Bell of Montgomery, who said she regrets accepting the donation.

Board Vice Chairman Sandra Ray of Tuscaloosa received $5,895, the second-largest amount of contributions from presidents and employees. Assistant Metro Editor Franklin Harris contributed to this story.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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