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Aug 10, 2010 9:09 PM by Alison Haynes

Lawmakers question higher ed commissioner salary

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The chairmen of the Legislature's budget
committee have raised concerns about the pay package for
Louisiana's interim higher education commissioner, who started on
the job earlier this month but still faces salary approval from
lawmakers.
Tom Layzell's compensation includes a monthly base pay of
$25,000, with additional monthly payments of $1,500 for housing and
$600 for a car. The pay package - which could give Layzell $162,600
over six months - is up for approval Thursday by the Joint
Legislative Committee on the Budget.
Rep. Jim Fannin, committee chairman, said Tuesday that the pay
seems excessive for an interim chief. But Fannin said his bigger
complaint is that Layzell started the job Aug. 2, without first
getting salary approval from the budget committee.
He said the Board of Regents, which governs public higher
education in Louisiana and selects the commissioner, shouldn't have
hired Layzell and signed paperwork outlining his salary until the
board received committee approval of the pay package.
"With all the issues we've had with higher education, we're
right back at the same place that we were with higher education: no
communication," said Fannin, D-Jonesboro.
Lawmakers have been frustrated with college leaders for more
than a year of budget hearings. House members in particular have
called higher education officials uncooperative and unwilling to
provide details of their spending.
It's unclear whether the complaints will derail approval
Thursday.
"With all the issues that the House has had with higher ed, I
can just feel that there's going to be problems getting the vote on
the House side," Fannin said.
Sen. Mike Michot, vice chairman of the committee, said Layzell's
pay package has raised eyebrows as colleges cope with several
rounds of budget cuts and brace for more. Michot said schools are
laying off faculty and staff, but keeping administrative salaries
in tact.
"The Legislature and the public are really at the point now
that they're questioning the kind of high salaries and that people
aren't taking any pay cuts and making any sacrifices of their
own," said Michot, R-Lafayette.
The Board of Regents didn't immediately respond Tuesday to a
request for comment about the criticism.
Both Fannin and Michot said their concerns aren't targeted at
Layzell personally. The interim commissioner is retired president
of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and a former
commissioner of higher education for the Mississippi Institutions
of Higher Learning.
Though his salary is laid out in his letter of appointment by
the Regents, Layzell hasn't yet received a paycheck. His first
check would be issued Friday, after the joint budget committee
considers his salary package, said Meg Casper, a Regents
spokeswoman.
Layzell isn't receiving health or retirement benefits, Casper
said.
His appointment runs until Jan. 31, or until a permanent
commissioner is hired, whichever is first.
Layzell took over the job after the July resignation of Sally
Clausen, who left the position after receiving sharp criticism for
quietly retiring from her job and then being rehired without ever
telling the Regents, her governing board.
Her resignation prompted legislative passage of the bill
requiring the next commissioner's salary to get lawmakers' approval
and the next commissioner's appointment to need Senate
confirmation. The new law doesn't spell out if that applies to an
interim commissioner.
Clausen received a $425,000 a year pay package that included a
$377,000 salary, a $3,000 monthly housing allowance and a $1,000
monthly car allowance. The head of the LSU System, John Lombardi,
is paid $601,000 a year, and the chiefs of the University of
Louisiana and Southern University systems receive pay packages that
top $420,000 annually.

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