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System's foundation a surprise to Byrne
2-year college chancellor unaware of fundraising group during years on state board of education

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — For years, the two-year college system operated its own foundation, which collected tens of thousands of dollars without the knowledge its governing body, the chancellor said Thursday.

System Chancellor Bradley Byrne told the state Board of Education that he learned about the foundation after coming to his present job in May.

Justice Dept. review

He also updated the board on the status of a U.S. Justice Department review of the system's double-dipping policy. The policy, approved by the board at its last meeting, would prohibit system employees from serving in a state elected office.

Byrne said the foundation was a surprise, especially since he served eight years on the board. Some board members said they also never knew about the foundation.

"I think they did not want the Board of Education to know about the foundation," he said after the meeting. "I think there has been an effort over the last 15 years to treat the board as an advisory group, not a governing board."

Byrne plans to do away with the foundation and use its remaining assets for the state's growing work-force development needs.

Rules for foundations

The foundation came to light as the board heard about proposed rules for foundations at the community colleges. Most colleges have private foundations that raise funds for specific purposes at the schools.

Byrne said that while most foundations follow proper operating rules, he is concerned about some others that do not. He asked a committee to propose tighter regulations for the foundations.

Calhoun Community College President Marilyn Beck chaired the committee that studied foundation regulations in other states and came up with proposals.

The board will consider those proposals at a later meeting.

Justice Department review of double-dipping policies is ongoing. Board member Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, was the only member who voted against their adoption. Bell told Byrne that she had a call Wednesday from the Justice Department asking her opinion about the policies.

She said the justice official told her the department plans to wrap up its review within a couple of months.

In other matters, two board members also questioned whether the state should have stricter rules governing I-colleges — private schools that offer courses online and currently under overseen by the two-year system.

Board members Randy McKinney, R-Gulf Shores, and Sandra Ray, D-Tuscaloosa, want to ensure that such colleges offer quality programs and real degrees.

"We want quality, not paper programs," McKinney said. "I do not want Alabama to be an easy mark for programs that aren't real. I don't want them to hide here."

A bill introduced in the Legislature in 2007 would have given oversight of such colleges to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

That bill failed.

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