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Schiano Deal Should Spur Greater Public Reporting By Colleges

The problem with the secret arrangements to retain Coach Greg Schiano as head of the Rutgers football program is not the deals themselves but the secrecy and lack of transparency surrounding them.

Rutgers University, as the state’s flagship higher education university, has an obligation to be accessible and accountable not only to the students attending the school but to the taxpaying public that subsidizes most of its operations.

In the case of Schiano’s contract, not only should the terms have been disclosed, but they should have been touted by an administration seeking to find cost-effective ways to increase the national profile of Rutgers football.

According to Rutgers athletic director Bob Mulcahy, tapping a portion of private sponsorship revenues to offset the public contract costs for Schiano was an example of the school being “resourceful.”

I think, particularly in an era when public dollars are stretched to the very limit, we need more creative solutions like this one to de crease the need for tax dollars and minimize public spending while maximizing public benefit.

More public colleges and state and local agencies should be willing to find public-private partnerships to help control the spending problems running rampant at all levels of government in the Garden State.

The continued presence of Schi ano at Rutgers has been a boon to the state university. Thanks to his leadership, the Rutgers football program has experienced a renaissance, having achieved winning seasons over the last three years and generated more than $22 million in private sponsorship revenue from Nelligan Sports Marketing, the school’s exclusive marketing agent.

The clause in his contract that would allow Schiano to bolt if a planned football stadium expan sion isn’t completed by 2009 should stand as further incentive to get that project on track. The expan sion will raise millions of dollars each season to support not only Rutgers athletics but academic programs.

All that said, the lack of transparency in major financial transactions at Rutgers is symptomatic of a larger issue of public college governance in New Jersey.

Public institutions of higher education have practically no reporting standards for even multimillion- dollar deals and contracts.

If nothing else, the Schiano contract controversy should stand as a rallying point for greater disclosure and transparency in public college finances.

Opposition from the presidents of most of the other colleges and universities in the state has stalled legislation that I introduced in April, S1609, which would imple ment tighter financial regulations and increased disclosure of financial transactions at all public schools in New Jersey.

This legislation should be a top priority to restore the public’s faith in how money is being spent at public colleges and universities.

The legislation would establish internal auditing and audit committees at every publicly funded college in the state. The role of these committees would be to record and make public the meeting minutes of each school’s governing body to ensure that colleges are accountable and open to scrutiny from taxpayers. No longer would major financial decisions at publicly funded colleges be hidden from public view.

In addition to the greater transparency through the audit commit tee recordings and internal audit staff, the bill would require the governing board of a public research university to establish a compensa tion committee. This committee would be responsible for reviewing and publicizing contractually obli gated compensation — from all sources — for senior administration officials at the college.

These new transparency standards also would apply not only to Schiano but other high-level employees of public colleges.

A great story — keeping the most sought-after football coach in the nation by using private funds generated through his leadership — has become a sour story for Rutgers and the state. It didn’t have to be this way. And if S1609 becomes law, it won’t be that way ever again.

Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat, is a state senator and a Rutgers graduate.