- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The 10-member Community College Board will meet Thursday to interview two finalists seeking to become the next executive director of the board that oversees Mississippi’s two-year colleges.

The board has declined to release the names of the candidates. Board Chairman Bruce Martin of Meridian said that the finalists are a man and a woman, both Mississippi residents. He says neither is currently a president of one of the 15 colleges the board oversees.

Martin said the board plans to conduct the interviews in closed session starting at 9 a.m. in Jackson. He said a choice could be announced Thursday or at the board’s regular meeting Friday.

The board coordinates the functions of the colleges, all of which have their own boards of trustees.

“We certainly need someone with good leadership qualities,” board member Sue Stedman of Natchez said. “I think we’ve got one of the finest community college systems in the nation. I’m personally going to be looking for someone who can continue that excellence in the community college system.”



Current Executive Director Eric Clark is retiring at the end of June, after serving since 2008. Clark, a Democrat, served three terms as secretary of state from 1996 to 2008. Before that, he served 16 years in the state House, representing Jones, Smith and Covington counties.

One of the prime responsibilities of the executive director is to lobby the Legislature for more money for the colleges. The colleges asked that in the 2016 budget, they receive a $79.1 million increase over this year’s appropriation of $251.7 million. That’s part of an effort to reach the goal set by a 2007 law stating the Legislature will fund colleges at a point halfway between the per-student funding levels of the state’s K-12 public schools and public universities.

To do so, lawmakers would have to raise per-student funding from $3,432 per year to $5,562, costing $140 million. Clark asked for half that amount in the 2016 budget, saying it would allow the colleges to expand workforce training and improve faculty salaries.

Lawmakers have recommended a $3.7 million cut in college funds in an early budget projection.

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