Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Questions over Scf Spending

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Questions over Scf Spending

Article excerpt

FINDINGS: Officials misused core funds for job training program, report shows

BRADENTON -- Despite repeated warnings from their staff, top officials at State College of Florida broke state law by using $470,000 of college money to prop up a failing job training program for the past two years, a report finds.

A report by a local accounting firm shows that SCF dipped into student tuition funds and state funding to make up a shortfall in its Continuing Workforce Education program in 2011, the same year the college raised tuition for regular students by 8 percent.

The program was still hemorrhaging money one year later when the college used profits from its bookstore and merchandise sales to bail it out.

The college has not been cited by auditors, but for trustees who recently forced President Lars Hafner to resign, the report is more evidence of poor fiscal management.

SCF emails show that Hafner and Jack Crocker, vice president for academic quality and success, received several warnings that the college was violating state law.

"These are the kinds of things that should not happen, not at any institution," said Board of Trustees Chairman Carlos Beruff.

Trustees requested the audit as they were building a case to fire Hafner, but it was not made public until after Hafner resigned with a $363,000 severance package.

SCF leaders say the program's shortfall was the result of the lackluster economy and a change in the law that required training courses be fully funded through fees.

College leaders have scaled down the program and reduced staffing costs so that the program is now covering costs.

Crocker, who is the college's acting president, defended moving money into the struggling program, saying it makes no sense that courses for students seeking two- and four-year degrees are subsidized by the state while work force education classes that help people find jobs or advance their careers are not.

He added that the college wanted to avoid cutting a program that he said is in keeping with Gov. Rick Scott's push for higher education to better prepare students for jobs.

"We took Gov. Scott's emphasis on jobs very seriously and felt we needed to make every effort to offer training for businesses in our region," he said.

The deficit balloons

SCF's work force education is intended to give local companies an affordable way to train and certify employees and also provide low- cost training to people starting up small businesses.

Courses include bookkeeping, computer studies and wedding and event planning.

Local companies that use SCF include Sysco, Tidewell Hospice and Tervis Tumbler.

Until recently, the fees that companies or students paid had to cover 50 percent of the cost of the classes.

But with state funding for colleges being cut, lawmakers in 2010 raised that to 100 percent.

That coincided with many companies slashing training budgets as a result of the prolonged economic downturn, a double whammy for the program. …

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