The Louisiana Board of Regents spent more than $8,000 last week on meetings in Kenner at which it interviewed five candidates for state higher education commissioner.
The state board named three finalists for the job on Thursday: West Liberty University President Robin Capehart, Community College of Rhode Island President Raymond Di Pasquale and Joseph Rallo, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Texas Tech University System.
A fourth potential finalist has until 5 p.m. Tuesday to decide whether to continue seeking the post.
The board has not identified any candidates for the position aside from the three finalists named and would not say last week how many it had “informal conversations” with during back-to-back meetings at the Hilton hotel across from the New Orleans airport.
But a spreadsheet, which The Advocate obtained Monday through a public records request, shows four candidates were flown to New Orleans, where the state board had three conference rooms for the meetings, and a fifth was interviewed by phone.
The estimated cost of the meetings — bringing candidates in and putting some up overnight, as well as providing food and lodging for board members and state board staffers — was $8,132.50, according to the document provided to The Advocate.
That document, for the first time, shows how many people interviewed for the job, but the board continues to cite open records exemptions in withholding the identities of two people who were interviewed but who have not been identified as finalists.
“I believe the Board of Regents has conducted a fair and open search while protecting the privacy of interested individuals,” Deputy Commissioner for Legal and External Affairs Uma Subramanian said in an email explaining the continued withholding of names. “The interests of the state and higher education are served best not only by giving adequate access to the public but also by ensuring that qualified individuals successful in their current employment do not prematurely withdraw from the search process.”
The Advocate sought all travel records, which was expected to include invoices with further information, but received only the spreadsheet with expense items and their corresponding dollar amounts. The Advocate continues to seek access to more detailed records.
The board is expected to hold second-round interviews with its remaining finalists Oct. 7-8 and name a new commissioner Oct. 9.
The state is paying Washington, D.C.-based AGB Search up to $75,000 for help with the search and related expenses.
As a state employee who oversees coordination between Louisiana’s college and university systems and state-level policies, the new commissioner likely will be paid about $350,000.
The exact salary will be set by the Board of Regents once a finalist is selected.
Meeting costs reflected in the document turned over to The Advocate this week include an estimated $198 for “refreshments” for 22 people on Wednesday and Thursday. That’s on top of $288 each of those days for staff and board members’ catered lunches from the hotel.
The three meeting rooms — one for the open portions of the board’s meetings, another for the closed-session meetings with candidates and a third for lunch — cost $1,700.
The board spent just over $1,000 for Wednesday night lodging for four members and five staffers.
As for the candidates being considered for the higher education commissioner post, flights ranged from $784.44 to $614.70.
Three stayed overnight in the same hotel as the board members.
Di Pasquale interviewed by phone, which cost $157.30 for a conference call fee.