By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama State University plans to implement mandatory furloughs for all employees and increase employees’ health insurance contributions in response to the latest financial crisis for the beleaguered Montgomery college.
According to a number of employees who contacted APR, the school informed its workers and faculty on Tuesday that a proposed work-around to a recent board of trustees decision not to raise tuition is to require all employees to serve a one-day-per-month furlough.
ASU officials acknowledged the furloughs proposal but declined to comment on the record.
For an employee earning $50,000 annually, the 12 furlough days would knock approximately $2,300 off.
The proposal, which still must be approved ASU’s trustees at a special meeting on Friday, is in response to the latest in a long line of financial issues that have plagued the school in recent years. And more specifically, it comes just weeks after ASU trustees voted down a long-rumored tuition increase at their regular meeting last month that would have pumped $9 million into the budget.
That increase, which drew the ire of students and parents – primarily due to its size (20 percent) and timing (middle of the school year) – had first been discussed in late 2015. School officials thought at that time that the increase would come last February.
But board members, many of whom have been critical of ASU president Gwendolyn Boyd’s continued hiring of top-level staff, balked at the idea. Trustee Herbert Young said during the meeting that he had trouble pushing a 20-percent tuition increase onto students when there had been little done to trim upper management.
Young also pointed out that none of the tuition increase was devoted to services that would directly improve the students’ experience on campus.
“There’s not one thing in that budget for the students – not one increase,” Young said.
ASU’s administration pushed back on those accusations, with director of finance Wanda Smith reminding the trustees that several millions have been trimmed from the budget over the past few years and numerous positions on campus have gone unfilled.
Following the trustees’ decision not to increase tuition, Smith expressed doubt about being able to present a Fiscal Year 2017 operating budget for ASU.
But Smith has found ways to cut before. In 2014, she managed to cut nearly $20 million from ASU’s proposed budget after severe financial issues took root at the university.
Those financial issues largely stemmed from a questionable investigation carried about by Gov. Robert Bentley’s office. That investigation, which started in 2012, is still ongoing today, despite the Alabama Attorney General’s Office not conducting an interview with any current or former ASU employee in more than a year.
It began when former ASU president Joseph Silver, while in a clash with board members, publicly alleged discovering potential fraud within some contracts at the school. Bentley’s office took over the matter and brought in a forensic auditing firm (Forensic Strategic Solutions) to dig through the school’s records.
The contentiousness between Bentley and ASU trustees grew after the trustees brought in former federal judge and Civil Rights icon U.W. Clemon to review every request and sit in on every interview conducted by FSS. It reached a fever pitch when Bentley’s office attempted to exert some control over the search for a new president – a search that ultimately found Boyd.
However, once the spectacle died down, the damage to ASU never stopped. With the ongoing forensic audit – which is also still ongoing and incomplete, despite the State of Alabama paying FSS more than $1 million – ASU couldn’t receive a clean annual audit. And without that clean audit, the school found itself facing multiple credit rating downgrades, which in turn caused its accrediting agency to place the university on warning status for two years.
All of the issues, and particularly the threat of accreditation loss, drove students away. ASU’s annual enrollment is down about 1,500 from six years ago.
The university has started to rebound, having been removed from warning status over the summer and seeing record enrollment for incoming freshmen.
No current or former employee at ASU has been indicted or accused of a crime. No audit, or audit report, has revealed fraud or significant mismanagement of funds.