The Alabama Community College System Board of Trustees voted on Thursday to consolidate seven community colleges in an effort to save state dollars in Montgomery, an increasingly scarce commodity as budget cuts have necessitated changes in nearly every aspect of state government.
The board will begin preliminary steps to ultimately merge three other schools under Faulkner State College in Bay Minette in south Alabama: Jefferson Davis Community College in Brewton, Alabama Southern Community College in Monroeville, and Reid State Technical College in Evergreen.
In east-central part of the state, two other schools will consolidate under Central Alabama Community College, in Alexander City. The two are Southern Union State Community College in Wadley and Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who occupies a unique statewide-elected public interest role in Montgomery somewhere between an ombudsman and a traditional state treasurer, said Thursday he wishes to vet the plan extensively.
“I am looking into this merger of seven community colleges,” Zeigler said. “We need to know: How much taxpayer money will be saved and HOW? Will it be more trouble for the local students and employees? Who in Montgomery is getting something out of this: a contract, a job created, etc.”
“Rarely is something done in Montgomery just because it is the right thing. Usually an Insider benefits somehow,” Zeigler said.
The board is largely made up by appointees by Gov. Robert Bentley and his administration. Zeigler, a fellow Republican, has often been at odds with Bentley.
The move is one of the first since lawmakers in Montgomery voted to create the community college board. Before this year, the trustees worked under the auspices of the State Board of Education.
Community College Board Member Al Thompson of Baldwin County told AL.com the mergers were recommended by Community College Chancellor Mark Heinrich.
Thompson said it’s important for the college system to be efficient because of amount of money spent on education. He said the moves would likely improve affordability and accessibility.