State lawmakers hear testimony from regents about higher-ed transparency
DENVER — Public outcry over tuition-funded raises for top University of Colorado officials derailed plans for a 15.7 percent tuition increase, a regent testified Monday before state lawmakers considering a bill designed to make state colleges more fiscally transparent.
Regent Sue Sharkey, R-Windsor, appeared before the state House Education Committee, which gave initial approval Monday to House Bill 1252, a measure that would require Colorado’s colleges to create a publicly accessible database with professors’ salaries, benefits, teaching loads, grants and travel reimbursements.
“I have every reason to believe we are off of the 15.7 percent (tuition) increase because of the public outcry, because of transparency,” Sharkey said, testifying on her own behalf, not as a university representative. “But that would have been voted on at a February meeting had it not been for the public response — and we would now have a 15.7 percent tuition increase for next fall.”
In late January, the Camera reported that last year’s 9.3 percent in-state tuition increase funded raises for top CU administrators, including a $49,000 salary bump for Boulder campus Chancellor Phil DiStefano, who now earns $389,000.
At a budget retreat earlier that month, Boulder campus officials shared a proposal with the regents that would alter CU’s tuition structure, resulting in a 15.7 percent tuition increase for in-state students.
Monday evening, CU system spokesman Ken McConnellogue rebuffed Sharkey’s assertion.
“The media reports aren’t what’s driving the timeline,” McConnellogue said, adding that CU’s tuition discussions happen over several months every year.
McConnellogue added that the regents will continue their tuition discussion at the board’s March meeting, and he noted that the regents also have asked CU administrators to come up with at least two more, separate tuition proposals. The university has not yet revealed any alternate tuition proposals.
Following Monday’s House Education Committee hearing, which also featured testimony from Regent Jim Geddes, R-Sedalia, the bill’s sponsor — B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland — said she favors an amendment that would shine more light on administrators’ compensation, as well, listing them by name and including information about their benefits.
In its current form, the bill requires only that administrators’ job titles be listed along with their salaries in the searchable database that tracks universities’ revenues and expenditures.
Sharkey told the lawmakers that the salaries of all CU employees should be transparent. She said she plans to bring forward a resolution at the Board of Regents’ meeting in March, asking her colleagues to back the bill.
Sharkey told the House committee that transparency promotes responsible spending.
“This is not a partisan issue, but rather a moral issue of fairness and openness of taxpayer-funded institutions,” Sharkey said.
Geddes also testified in favor of the bill.
“We want to know that our professors are doing their job and earning their keep,” he said. “And I think this sort of transparency will allow that observation.”
Expense of the bill
CU has opposed the measure, citing concerns over the fiscal impact of the bill, including how much money it would cost the university to compile and maintain the database. The bill would require that expenditure and revenue data be updated every five business days.
A new fiscal note tied to the bill estimates that the start-up costs will be $250,000 to $499,000 per school and an extra $90,000 to $307,000 to maintain the database annually in future years.
Matt Arnold, a Republican candidate for an at-large regent seat, in his testimony suggested that building the database could perhaps be a project for qualified students — which would be a great “resume builder” and showcase for CU students’ talents.
The bill passed through the House Education Committee and is headed next to the House Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or email@example.com.
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