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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

What's independent, holistic and not a witch hunt?



Meeting for the first time, the high-profile task force formed to oversee spending at Florida A&M University better defined its mission Friday morning, saying it would work independently to address the school's deep-seated financial and accounting problems but not point fingers.

"There are many rumors out there, and part of the rumors are that this task force is out to kill FAMU, and do a name game or blame game on FAMU," said task force member Albert Dotson Sr., a Miami business executive who participated in Friday's telephone conference. But "this task force is not on a witch hunt."

The Board of Governors formed the 9-member group last week, in response to yet another unflattering state audit that found 35 problems at Florida's only historically black public university. FAMU has been rocked by a series of mismanagement problems going back to the presidencies of Frederick Humphries and Fred Gainous, who was fired in 2004. But many observers thought - until the latest audit - that the school had turned a corner. The task force is charged with coming up with a plan that will "correct all financial and operational deficiencies."

"The conclusion many of us have reached is that the nature of the difficulties and challenges that FAMU faces are probably too deep-seated and pervasive" to quickly fix, said Lynn Pappas, a Board of Governors member who chairs the task force. "It's going to take a very holistic approach of reform and improvement."

And probably outside help, too. Given the technical nature of many of the problems, Pappas told other members the task force should consider hiring a consultant who specializes in turning around educational institutions. "I feel it is imperative … for us to engage expertise," she said.

One task force member, though, wondered if the group was biting off too much. "Our charge is … cure the patient and correct whatever's wrong with A&M. That is a very ambitious undertaking," said Leander Shaw, former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. "I suspect what we're going into is akin to peeling an onion: One layer is going to lead to another."

Asked by Shaw if he was comfortable with the breadth of the group's charge, State University System Chancellor Mark Rosenberg said no. But he said as the group delves into the issues, it will find specific areas to focus on. "We will narrow it down, sir," Rosenberg told Shaw. "I promise you." The group next meets on April 19 in Tallahassee.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:15am]


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