Aug 12, 2010 9:36 PM by Alison Haynes
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers rejected the salary package
Thursday for Louisiana's interim higher education commissioner,
calling the pay excessive and throwing the leadership over the
state's public colleges and universities in limbo.
Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget voted
23-9 against approving the compensation for Tom Layzell, a 40-year
veteran of public higher education in Kentucky, Illinois and
Mississippi who had started working in Louisiana last week.
Layzell stood to receive a monthly base pay of $25,000, with
additional monthly payments of $1,500 for housing and $600 for a
car - which could give him $162,600 over six months. He was chosen
unanimously by the state Board of Regents that governs higher
education in the state.
"Mr. Layzell, it in no way reflects your ability or your
portfolio or anything," said Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro,
chairman of the budget committee. "It reflects the economy that
we're in today and what we hear from our constituents back home."
It was unclear Thursday how the Board of Regents will respond.
After the vote, Fannin asked Layzell to consider a lower salary,
but Layzell wouldn't offer any indication if he would be willing to
take the pay cut.
"I thought the level of pay was fair given the level of
experience I bring to the job, Layzell said.
Retired president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary
Education, Layzell also is a former commissioner of higher
education for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.
Regents board members and others called the rejection of a pay
package they considered in line with other jobs around the country
an embarrassment to Louisiana - and a possible deterrent in the
state's search for a permanent higher education commissioner.
"Finding a permanent person just got very complicated," said
Regents Chairman Artis Terrell.
"What is it that we want? Do we want mediocrity? I mean you do
have to pay for talent. It's the worst message we could have sent
to the rest of the country," said Barry Erwin, president of the
Council for a Better Louisiana, who monitors higher education
issues in the state.
Lawmakers questioned whether Layzell could offer much leadership
with such a short tenure at the helm and suggested someone with a
smaller salary could have been chosen temporarily.
"You're not going to be able to accomplish anything," said
Rep. M.J. "Mert" Smiley, R-Port Vincent.
Layzell said he had planned to implement a tuition increase law
recently passed by the Legislature, recommend changes to the
funding model for schools and suggest ways to improve performance,
based on his work in other states.
Layzell started the job Aug. 2. His appointment was supposed to
run until Jan. 31, or until a permanent commissioner is hired,
whichever is first.
The commissioner's job was vacant with the July resignation of
Sally Clausen, who left after receiving sharp criticism for quietly
retiring from her job and then being rehired without ever telling
the Regents. Her resignation prompted legislative passage of the
bill requiring the next commissioner's salary to get lawmakers'
Clausen received a $425,000 a year pay package. 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.