My Turn: Taxpayers deserve action on CCSNH mismanagement

For the Monitor
Saturday, December 16, 2017

Dear Gov. Sununu: For years, faculty, staff, students and administrators of the Community College System of New Hampshire have reached out to their legislators expressing concern about the financial mismanagement of the colleges by Chancellor Ross Gittell. As a result, a performance audit of CCSNH was conducted by the Office of Legislative Budget Assistant, at the recommendation of the Fiscal Committee of the General Court.

This audit found that CCSNH ignored or failed to develop internal control policies and procedures, which led to costly and damaging management decisions. The chancellor and the board of trustees made decisions that directed the limited human and financial resources of CCSNH away from the students who paid for and deserve a quality education.

A few key observations from this 100 page report:

– $34,000 spent on an inauguration that included $500 for a poem.

– A seven-day stay at the Ritz Carlton in Virginia at a cost of $2,000.

– A five-day stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Texas at a cost of $1,500.

– Six tickets to a gala for $1,200.

– A washer and dryer and window treatments at a cost of $1,300 for an executive.

– A building was purchased for $300,000 and then sold for $75,000 after finding that it could not be used for its intended use.

– One college’s project required an additional $1,450,000 due to inaccurate cost estimates resulting in CCSNH borrowing $600,000 from another community college to cover the shortfall.

– IT projects were not sufficiently planned, specifically the System Banner Revitalization Project. The costs of SBR have been significant to CCSNH and as of March 2017 reached in excess of $2,900,000. SBR negatively impacted the efficiency of CCSNH operations and the majority of users express the concern that it will take years before this database will function properly, and CCSNH still spends money on this poorly planned and implemented project today.

– CCSNH lacks the planning, policies and procedures to react in a well-informed manner to potential financial issues and to properly protect the financial resources of the colleges.

The findings of this audit clearly show that the chancellor and the board of trustees have shown callous disregard for their responsibilities as stewards of the human and financial resources of CCSNH and, at times, have shown complete indifference to policies and procedures intended as safeguards.

The chancellor’s response to this detailed report included the formation of a handpicked task force that never convened, and incredibly, spent an additional $330,000 on yet another software package after this performance audit was published. These actions are concrete evidence that the chancellor and the board continue to squander the limited resources of the colleges and do so with impunity.

The chancellor’s job description makes it clear that he is responsible for the overall administration and performance of CCSNH. Per RSA 188-F:2, the board of trustees is responsible for ensuring that the colleges operate as a well-coordinated system of public community colleges, and that the governor, with the advice and consent of the Executive Council, is responsible for the appointment of the members of this board.

After months of silence, the taxpayers of the state of New Hampshire, and especially the students of CCSNH, deserve action from the governor’s office.

It is time to replace the members of the board of trustees so that a new chancellor can be appointed, a chancellor who understands that the limited human and financial resources of CCSNH must be directed toward the students and the education they deserve.

(Laura Z. Morgan lives in Hopkinton.)