Community College Legislation Victim of `Turf Battles,' Says Official: Louisiana Lawmakers Strike Down System's Creation

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Community College Legislation Victim of `Turf Battles,' Says Official:. Louisiana Lawmakers Strike Down System's Creation

BATON ROUGE, LA -- A recent effort by some Louisiana lawmakers to convert three technical schools into full-fledged community colleges fell victim to "turf battles and petty politics," according to the president of the state's regional college system.

James Caillier, president of the University of Louisiana system that would have run the three proposed community colleges, said the legislation could have served as a prototype to create a community college system.

But the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was fearful, said Caillier, of losing control of its 45 technical schools and used its political muscle to torpedo the proposal to create three new community colleges in the Cajun area of Louisiana known as Acadiana.

"They are against the creation of community colleges because they think the more we create, and the more success shows, then it will stir up interest for similar projects in other areas."

Political Posturing

Caillier said the issue of creating a new institution was complicated by some political posturing over who would be hired as the chancellor of the proposed community college that would have included campuses in Lafayette, New Iberia and Opelousas.

"Some of the lawmakers wanted us to name the president before the school was created," Caillier said.

On June 19, the final day of the legislative session, Sen. Armand Brinkhaus, who had been pushing the community college bill, dropped it in order to launch an unsuccessful effort to convert a horse-racing track near Lafayette into an amusement park with a casino.

Even though the community college bill had sailed through the Louisiana House by an 82-18 vote, Brinkhaus said he could not muster the two-thirds majority vote in the Senate needed to transfer the technical schools to the University of Louisiana system.

Brinkhaus said the proposal might have been more successful if it only focused on one technical school, instead of three.

"It was too much, and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was worried about where it would stop," Brinkhaus said. "They were afraid that every two years, the Legislature would come in and take over five of their schools."

Big Losers

Caillier said those who will lose the most from the defeat of the community college proposal are the 70 percent of students who graduate from Louisiana high schools each year and don't attend either a technical school or a university.

The Acadiana proposal would have tracked the example set two years ago when the state Legislature successfully merged a technical school with a postsecondary school that featured 13th and 14th grades, according to Caillier.

Enrollment at the resulting Elaine P. Nunez Community College in Chalmette soared from about 600 to more than 2,000. But John Bertrand, a member of the state board, claims that the quality of vocational courses at Nunez has suffered as a result of the merger.

Bertrand characterized Caillier as a turf-hungry official whose main motive in pushing for the creation of community colleges is to expand his own power base.

Bertrand said Caillier killed two attempted compromises that would have allowed the creation of a community college in the Lafayette area, but left the technical schools under the board's dominion.

"If the blame for killing the community college proposal is to be anywhere, it rests on Jim Caillier's back," Bertrand said.

`Unacceptable' Proposals

Caillier said he opposed the attempted compromises because they sought to create a community college "on paper" without a free-standing campus. One proposal would have allowed the campus-less community college to hold classes in the technical schools, while another would have had it holding classes on the University of Southwestern Louisiana campus. …