|An anonymous critic recently distributed this analysis of recent, questionable financial decisions at NCSSM which I decided to share despite its lack of references, footnotes, and brevity.|
The Financial Crisis in NC -- Dealing with it at NCSSM
Raising some questions in March 2009
The Board of Trustees of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics met on the Durham campus on Friday, March 6. Board members and the general public attending that meeting heard yet another presentation by the architectural firm of Ayers Saint Gross detail the plans for the $100,000,000 -- yes, 100 million dollars -- addition to the Durham high school which opened in 1980 as the nation's first residential school for 11th and 12th graders who exhibit exceptional talent and interest in mathematics and science. The chancellor, Gerald Boarman, wants to increase the student body by roughly 50%, adding 300 more students to the small residential campus. While there may be solid arguments for and against increasing the size of the student body, there is no reasonable man or woman in NC who would suggest that spending $100 million dollars to serve 300 students is feasible given the State's current financial crisis. While the $100 million would enhance the current-size student body's experiences, we need only look to the school's history -- and Boarman's own recent statements - to understand that the school is doing an outstanding job now, with the physical plant it has available now. Furthermore, with the increased emphasis on and availability of distance education programs for high school students, including those offered by NC community colleges, UNC constituent institutions, NC private colleges, and, yes, even NCSSM itself, there is ample reason to question the need to increase the size of the on-campus student body. This is particularly so given the current administration's recruitment and admissions policies which have led to a nearly 40% drop in the average number of black students entering the school. In the pre-Boarman period from 1992-1998, NCSSM averaged 55 black students per class; in the post-Boarman period from 2001 to 2008, that average dropped to 33. In fact, those familiar with the history of the school would likely suggest that the drop in black enrollment in 1998 (from 51 black students to 40 that year) was likely the result of a widely publicized court case brought by the families of black male students who sued for race discrimination after their sons were dismissed for alcohol violations while similarly situated white students were not. Be that as it may, the pre-Boarman admissions office was able to quickly recover, drawing 51 students to the Durham campus in the following year, 1999. This writer questions such an extravagant expenditure as $100 million for NCSSM under any circumstance; however, given the fact that high performing black students are no longer enrolled at NCSSM in the numbers which were once the case, the question that raises its head is this: Should we not put that $100 million into programs that support education of students State wide, or perhaps allocate at least half of that money to programs focusing on reducing the achievement gap facing black students and Hispanic students, or better yet, give an extra one million to each of the State's 100 counties now facing educational programming cuts and let the entire state benefit from a 100 million dollar addition to the education financing?
Almost immediately following the detailed discussion of the $100 million dollar expansion plan, the Board and members of the audience heard Chancellor Boarman describe how he plans to address a reduction in staff should such a step become necessary in order to cut the school's budget, falling in line with other state government entities facing similar and equally difficult decisions. Chancellor Boarman outlined that he had decided to be fair, reducing the personnel rolls by one administrative position, one faculty position, and one SPA position. Boarman further outlined this plan -- should such measures become necessary -- by indicating the dollar amounts saved using that scheme. Showing a slide with amounts, the audience saw this:
1 EPA administrative salary about $65,000
1 Faculty salary $74,000
1 SPA salary $30,000
Using these figures, we see that Chancellor Boarman has identified a savings of about $169,000 through these staff cuts, should staff cuts become necessary. Using the most recent BD-119 (Budget Document 119, the UNC-required reporting form which outlines salaries and raises for EPA employees), we see that there are 17 administrators listed under general administration and general instruction administration, and that those two budget lines account for a total of $1,700,999 and that comes to an average salary of over $100,000 for that group. There are three positions allocated to student services administration, costing an additional $189,429, and one plant facilities position at $76,443. This brings total EPA administrative costs, as outlined on the BD-119, to nearly 2 million dollars ($1,966,870) and an average administrator-salary of $93,660. It seems then, that Chancellor Boarman is under-estimating what he can save by reducing an administrative line position.
This discussion prompts a closer examination of personnel costs at NCSSM over the last several years. Part of that examination produced Table 2 attached to this discussion. While enrollment has grown by approximately 17% when we compare 2002-2003 enrollment to that in 2008-2009, we find that general administration costs have grown by a bit over 66%. General administration (budget code 1111-531111 for readers who wish to check these figures) includes Boarman and eleven other employees, up only two in number from 02-03 (10) to that in 08-09 (12), yet salary costs are up more than 66%. That would translate to a minimum of slightly over an 8.8% raise every year for every individual in that group. General administration costs for instructional administration (budget code 1211-531111) have increased by 37% with NO increase in the number of personnel in that line item when 02-03 is compared with 08-09.
There are some rather striking discoveries available to those who will study the BD-119 carefully and over time. Chancellor Boarman developed the habit of awarding administrators raises on January 1 of each year -- mid-year raises when the fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30-- and raises again on July 1. These have not been, for the most part, cost-of-living size raises of only 2 or 3 percent. One of the more shocking discoveries is Boarman's own $38,100 raise in January 2007. That figure represents a raise of over 19%, hardly a cost-of-living raise. Of course, the NCSSM Board of Trustees had to approve that raise. The then-chairman of the BOT, T. Brock Winslow was subsequently given a job by Boarman on June 25, 2007 at a salary of over $90,000, and on July 1, 2007 Winslow received a raise which took his salary to slightly more than $102,000. Mr. Winslow served as chairman of the NCSSM Board of Trustees for several years, was the owner-operator of a local company, and ran unsuccessfully for State political office around 2004 but had no previous institutional advancement/development experience when he took over the position of Vice Chancellor for Development in June 2007. Boarman's raise to himself, approved by the BOT, came just months before NCSSM became a constituent member of the UNC System and represents the last time Boarman could determine his own raises. Boarman, who heads a high school of about 650 students, receives a salary of $245,000 for 2008-2009, which is more than that of six of the chancellors of the constituent universities (besting them by as little as $7000 or as much as $28,000). Boarman, who joined NCSSM in June of 2000 at a salary of approximately $152,000, now costs the state $245,000 a year in salary alone. Having one's salary increase by a bit more than 63% in only 8 years is not at all bad.
While Boarman's hiring practices have come into question on many fronts, no decisions have been more questioned than his practice of hiring life-long friends who are retirees from the Maryland public school system, and/or who are former colleagues from Eleanor Roosevelt High School, the school Boarman managed prior to his retirement in Maryland and just prior to his joining NCSSM. Those same individuals, commonly known on campus by the derisive term Maryland Mafia, have enjoyed rapid increases in position and/or salary. The most outstanding recent incident along this line involves that of the elevation of Darlene Haught, recently appointed Vice Chancellor for Distance Education and External Programs (DEEP). Haught, who joined Boarman at NCSSM in June of 2001, almost immediately after her retirement from the Maryland system, was moved into the vice-chancellor position following the retirement of Sally Adkin, holder of the Ph.D. in educational measurement from UNC-G. The 2007-2008 BD-119 shows that Adkin, Vice Chancellor of External Programs and Director of Institutional Research, earned a little over $103,000 during her last year at NCSSM while Haught held the title of Dean of Distance Education under Adkin. That same BD-119 shows Haught, who holds a master's degree, being awarded a raise of slightly over 14% (from $86564 to $99052 by July of 2007). When Haught moved into the Adkin position, Haught's salary went up even more, to the current $112,226. Haught, the Maryland friend, is worth more than Adkin, the long-time NCSSM employee with a Ph.D. The additional complexity in the elevation of Haught is the hiring of Karen Dash, who is now charged with performing the educational measurement/institutional research component of Adkin's job. Dash was hired at $65,000, with the title Director of Institutional Research. Thus, it has cost the State over $177,000 to elevate Boarman friend Haught into Adkin's position.
A hire that has been equally disturbing was that of James Michael Reidy, life-long Boarman friend and now Vice Chancellor for Administration. Boarman created a new position for Reidy, bringing him onto the NCSSM payroll on March 10, 2003, immediately upon Reidy's retirement from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Baltimore. What was, and remains, particularly questionable about the Reidy hiring is the fact that Boarman rejected the opportunity even to interview a highly qualified black male, a Ph.D.-holding candidate who was then Director of Studies of Butler College at Princeton University and who was also an NCSSM alum. Although the Reidy hiring did not represent the first time that Gerald Boarman had over-looked a highly qualified black male in favor of a former Maryland colleague whom Boarman wished to bring to NCSSM, the Reidy hiring does represent an astonishing refusal even to interview such an applicant. Reidy's position was, according to Boarman's explanation to both Faculty and the BOT, to eliminate the need to replace the retiring Sandy Rothchild, who was the campus legal advisor. Boarman explained that the person whom he would bring into the newly created position, then called Assistant Executive Director, would have legal expertise. Rothchild's position was eliminated, extra monies found -- by failing to give raises to any of those in the administrative line -- and Reidy was hired at about $103,000, and now makes slightly over $128,000. This current salary represents a salary increase of over 24% in just a few months more than 5 years of service with the state. During those five years, Boarman hired a counselor-attorney, who now serves full time in the position of legal advisor to the chancellor. That lady, Natasha Nazareth-Phelps, makes over $90,000, having received raises totaling over $35,000 last year alone. With the return of a highly paid campus attorney, is Michael Reidy's position necessary? Does a high school of slightly over 650 students really need a Chancellor and an Assistant Chancellor for Administration, in addition to four other Vice Chancellors and four Deans?
With respect to Michael Reidy, it is worth noting that Boarman chose to make an exception to NC State Law requiring the parent/guardian to be a NC legal residence when the student files an application for admission to NCSSM. This writer served on the Admissions Selection Committee in the spring of 2003 and raised the issue of Michael Reidy's son's application with then-President Boarman. Applications are due to NCSSM by early January, months before Michael Reidy was hired at NCSSM, and even before his retirement date in Maryland. President Boarman indicated that the Reidy son "is a great kid" and "he will get in." The explanation: "I asked the Board of Trustees to change the state law on that requirement." Needless to say, Reidy's son was admitted, graduated, and received the tuition waiver to attend NC State. So, not only did Michael Reidy benefit from a position created just for him, he benefited from what is essentially a $40,000-plus prep-school level education for his son, then received the additional benefit of free tuition to NC State. What is even more disconcerting about this special dispensation awarded the Reidy son is the fact that in 2003-2004, black student enrollment reached only 30, down from the low of 40 in the pre-Boarman years, down from the average of 55 mentioned earlier, and, worse yet, way below the 70 enrolled in 1993. Had the Boarman Administration shown nearly as much determination to develop a process which would recruit high performing black students in an efficient and effective manner as it has shown in providing employment for former Maryland colleagues, NCSSM would today be enrolling well over 50 outstanding black students per year. Those of us who have been involved in education for many years know that those students exist. In fact, all Boarman would have to do is to reinstate the admissions processes used by previous NCSSM leaders.
While there are other examples of hirings that raise questions vis a vis the pattern of avoiding hiring minority candidates as well as the Boarman habit of hiring friends and then providing exceptional raises to those friends, it needs to be said that the individuals who make up the so-called Maryland Mafia are not necessarily bad people. This is not an attack on those individuals, nor is it necessarily an attack on their credentials per se; this is, however, an attack on the financial burden the practice has placed on the NCSSM budget and on the very apparent reluctance to hire minorities, including those with exceptional qualifications, in high-level positions with this current administration.
With this financial discussion as backdrop, this writer is given to ask this question: If NCSSM finds it necessary to cut personnel costs, is it not reasonable to suggest that Chancellor Boarman reduce salaries in the administrative lines -- even perhaps eliminating some positions -- before cutting instructional faculty and certainly before cutting SPA personnel, the very lowest paid people on campus? Perhaps Gerald Boarman would even consider giving back even half of that recent $38,100 raise which Mr. Winslow approved just prior to stepping down as Chairman of the NCSSM BOT? Perhaps NCSSM really does not need both a director and an assistant director of campus security, and could manage with only the SPA employee who serves as assistant director of security. After all, NCSSM now has two Durham policemen on duty on campus full time. Perhaps the school should return to the semester calendar, saving the costs of three administrative start-ups, three grade-mailings, etc. per year as opposed to two -- with, of course, the added advantage of operating on a calendar which meshes not only with the UNC System and the Community College System but also with every public school system in NC, allowing for easier delivery of distance learning offerings. In short, there is a myriad of options through which savings can be made if the State budget requires greater economy on the part of NCSSM. Reducing faculty, and thereby reducing service to students, should be a last-option. Cutting SPA positions is not a viable option until every ounce of financial fat is removed from the administrative line items.