- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The state House and Senate have nearly unanimously agreed that the trustees at South Carolina State University need to be fired. But after nearly three months of debate, they still can’t agree on whether two state officials which handle financial matters should get to appoint a couple of the interim trustees to oversee the state’s only public historically black university.

The disagreement continued Tuesday for nearly two hours as three House members and three senators debated a compromise on their different bills. The conference committee adjourned without making a final decision, agreeing to meet again Wednesday afternoon.

Each side agreed the governor should get an appointment and the House and Senate should decide how to appointment two members in each chamber.

But that five-member board is all the Senate wants. Sens. Brad Hutto, Darrell Jackson and Wes Hayes all rejected a compromise from House members that would add the treasurer and comptroller general as members.

“We should agree to move forward or agree to disagree. We’re here fiddling while Rome is burning,” said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.

Cobb-Hunter and her fellow House members, Jim Merrill and Kenny Bingham, said allowing the comptroller general and treasurer to each appoint a temporary trustee would add important fiscal accountability to the board. They pointed out that the chief problem at SC State is mounting debt, which could reach more than $23 million this summer.

But Hutto said a seven-member board would be unwieldy, given its job of saving the state’s only public historically black university.

“The fewer people involved, the more nimble a board can be,” said Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

Jackson, D-Hopkins, also had a personal objection to letting Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom name a trustee because of comments he made in April 2014 suggesting the students at SC State are there because they can’t get into or afford to go to another school.

The conference committee quickly agreed on merging the rest of the two proposals, including allowing the interim trustees to serve until summer 2018. The current board, which is supposed to have 13 members but has dwindled to six as members resign, will be fired as soon as the governor signs a bill.

Gov. Nikki Haley has asked the Legislature to act as quickly as possible so the new board can get in place.

SC State has been in turmoil for several years as declining enrollment has been combined with an unwillingness to cut spending. A fractured board of trustees hired a president who was fired in a year. Now Thomas Elzey is suing the school.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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