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FAMU president fears legislative takeover

Castell Bryant, brought in to pull the school out of a financial morass, blasts a plan for the Legislature to take over accounting.

Published March 25, 2005

TAMPA - The bleak financial picture at Florida A&M University has led to a proposal calling for legislative accountants to take over the school's finances, interim FAMU president Castell Bryant said Thursday.

She said she opposes the plan, which calls for accountants from the Legislature's joint auditing committee to manage finances of the historically black college.

"It has never been done to a state institution," said Bryant. She said she can fix the school's problems if given time.

She said she hopes to balance the school's budget by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Bryant came out of retirement in January to run the school after trustees fired president Fred Gainous for not moving fast enough to straighten out FAMU's finances.

Bryant soon hired the auditing firm KPMG to evaluate the school's financial condition. The firm's report showed FAMU did not balance its books and did not track how it spent money.

This fiscal year, auditors said the university spent at least $51.1-million more than was budgeted. It paid staff $19.5-million less in salaries than state records said it should. KPMG could not explain the discrepancy.

Last week, two of FAMU's top financial officers resigned. Bryant said Thursday she has no idea who will replace them.

Bryant said she has been meeting with KPMG auditors daily and soon will get monthly financial reports. She asked the firm to recommend an action plan, which she said she will implement.

She said accountants from the Legislature, if they take over, planned to just adopt that plan.

"Now that I have a plan, they want to do something," she said.

Underlying the tension over a takeover is race.

FAMU, a predominantly black university, has always been the smaller school in Tallahassee, where Florida State University has broad support in the Legislature.

In 1965, the state closed FAMU's law school and soon opened one at FSU. The decision created years of resentment among FAMU alumni, who saw it as theft by a white institution of a coveted graduate school.

Race came up Thursday after the meeting when Bryant was asked why she did not want the Legislature's accountants to take control.

She said the question made the reporter who asked it look bad.

"Would you ask the University of Florida that?" she said.

"Would you ask Bernie Machen that?" she said, referring to UF's president, who is white.

Members of the Board of Governors offered Bryant their support Thursday, saying she had taken the right steps so far.

"She is very bright, aggressive person," said Sheila McDevitt. "They ought to give her a shot."

Board members also said they understood legislators' worries.

"They have the right to be concerned, and we are concerned too," said board chairwoman Carolyn Roberts.

[Last modified March 25, 2005, 01:00:17]

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