Kustra has questions about higher ed CEO proposal

Idaho could use someone like a higher education CEO, Boise State University President Bob Kustra said.

But in a Thursday interview with Idaho Education News, Kustra said he’s skeptical about whether a CEO could find significant cost savings within the university system. He says the cost of a CEO’s office could prove to be a hangup.

Seven Idaho business leaders have floated the idea of creating a CEO’s office, making their pitch in a Sept. 27 letter to Gov. Butch Otter. The business leaders — members of Otter’s higher education task force — believe a CEO could save Idaho taxpayers untold millions of dollars by consolidating administrative functions. (Here’s a link to my Wednesday story on the proposal.)

The idea isn’t that unusual, said Kustra, who also served on Otter’s task force. Many states have higher education executive officers that act as a CEO.

But there are some unanswered questions. It’s unclear exactly what university functions the CEO would try to consolidate. The possibilities include everything from payroll and purchasing to IT and human resources. As a result, Kustra says he’s “not convinced” that the promised savings would materialize.

The business leaders say it could cost $2.5 million to fund a CEO’s office in 2018-19 — and take over an administrative function that the State Board of Education could perform. By contrast, the State Board has 31 full-time positions and receives $5.6 million from the state general fund.

“Right now, the state board is getting by on the cheap,” Kustra said.

It will be up to Otter and the Legislature to act on the CEO proposal. For now, Otter is noncommittal.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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