January 1, 2007

College Upheaval Marks the Past Year: Nurse Program is Wounded By Controversies

By Christine Braden, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

Dec. 30--The year 2006 was a roller-coaster ride for Florida Keys Community College.

With another resignation in the school's premier Nursing Program, a steady decline in enrollment and an ongoing effort to find a new president, college officials are looking to move on in 2007.

When current Nursing Program Director Juli Daniels prompted uncanny flashbacks with her resignation in November (it takes effect Sunday), the administration and board took their time revealing why.

Previous program Director Coleen Dooley resigned in 2005.

In speaking out now, through both their lawyer Bob Norton and college Vice President Maureen Crowley, school officials say the circumstances surrounding the two resignations are entirely different despite accusations to the contrary by Dooley and Daniels' husband, Keith.

Both Dooley and Daniels' camps maintain that school administration mismanaged authority and finances, and sought ways to get rid of the two directors for going against the grain.

Dooley, whose appeal to the Third District Court of Appeal challenging the reclassification of her position was dismissed in August 2005, has requested an informal inquest into the practices of the FKCC administration.

Daniels resigned after the school's Human Resources Department investigated claims against her alleging intimidating behavior toward other staff.

School officials are now interviewing applicants to take over the administrative position sometime in January.

Over the past year, the college has worked to replace retiring President Bill Seeker and is now headed into making a final decision sometime before June, when his retirement takes effect.

This summer, the board of trustees selected headhunter Jeff Hockaday from North Carolina as its presidential search consultant. The board also appointed a 15-member selection committee comprising school staff and community members to help narrow the search.

After receiving nearly 60 applications, Hockaday weeded through the candidates and presented the committee with 30 he believed might fit the bill. Its first cut narrowed the number to 12 and finally to seven.

The final seven will move forward to begin an interview process with the board early next year.

Whomever the board chooses as its the next president, that person already has plenty of work to do in reversing an enrollment decline.

During the 2000-01 school year, the college's student head count, including those students taking both for-credit and not-for-credit courses, was at 3,766. The number dropped to 2,844 during the 2004-05 year, according to figures out of the state Department of Education.

"And we expect it to be slightly less in 05-06 as well," college spokeswoman Lydia Estenoz said.

Predictions for the school's full-time equivalency rate (or credited students) show the 2006-07 school year to most likely top out at 675 students.

Those statistics only get bleaker and by the 2010-11 school year, the state foresees just 397 students attending full-time.

Options to stem the slide include possible student housing, more creative academics and partnerships with other schools.

At the FKCC graduation in May, 96 students received degrees in such areas as computer technology, business data processing, nursing and marine environment. It was the school's 40th graduation ceremony since the college opened in 1965.

The Tennessee Williams Theatre at the Stock Island campus reopened in November after an unplanned 15-month intermission following damage from Hurricane Wilma in October 2005.

"The various storms rendered us dead in the water for a while," theater Executive Director Frank Wood had said.

The school's insurance, as well as some federal assistance, helped fund some $2.4 million in estimated repair costs to rebuild the inside of the theater.


Copyright (c) 2006, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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