Senators expressed outrage Thursday over audit findings in the state’s higher education system that included indications that some presidents might have received compensation or contract terms that violated state law, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
The meeting comes in the wake of an uproar over President Kenneth Walker’s pay at Edison State College. Walker has been placed on leave after reports he earned total compensation of more than $837,000; the college eventually hopes to fire Walker for cause.
But Thursday’s meeting of the Senate panel charged with overseeing higher education funding focused on a total of 158 findings throughout the state’s colleges and universities — some of them relatively minor oversights but some of them focused on other problems with the compensation or contracts of state college presidents.
For example, auditors found that two presidents had contracts that included severance agreements, which aren’t allowed under state law. At Florida State College at Jacksonville, auditors found that some of the president’s accrued sick leave was transferred to accrued vacation leave — a shift they said was worth almost $96,000.
Members of the panel said they were incensed.
“Here we are in the Florida Legislature, Joe Lunchbucket is out there, we’re looking at a budget that we’re probably going to have to make some significant cuts (to), and then these kinds of things are going on in our universities and colleges,” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. “That is wrong.”
Regarding Walker’s deal at Edison, Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, said: “Sounds like a perfect opportunity to have a grand jury investigation.”
The college is still sifting through the evidence to see if criminal acts were committed and whether the matter should be referred to law enforcement, officials said.
Newly appointed Florida College System Chancellor Randy Hanna told the committee the audit at the Jacksonville school had just been released and he had not yet reviewed it in detail and couldn’t speak about it specifically.
“I can assure you, we’re going to be aggressive in these situations,” Hanna pledged.
After the meeting, Hanna said he didn’t believe the issues in the audits were systemic, pointing out that few of the dozens of audit findings were the kind that drew the attention of committee members.
“Most of the findings that were pointed out are minor and they’re fixed immediately,” Hanna said.
Sen. Evelyn Lynn, the Ormond Beach Republican who chairs the committee, said after the meeting that the panel would like to see forensic audits into some of the more serious allegations to find out if further action is needed to be taken.
“These are very, very important issues that should not be occurring,” Lynn said. “And we’ve got to do something about that.”