Press-Register on Bishop State’s Best Grill:
Two-year college system Chancellor Bradley Byrne recognizes
a financial sinkhole when he sees one. He recently ordered the permanent
closing of Bishop State Community College’s Best Grill, a “culinary
laboratory” that cooked up an astonishing $1.7 million in losses in a few
The decision to close the restaurant was a no-brainer.
Responsible public officials don’t throw away wads of public money.
But the end of this educational experiment that failed
miserably leaves two perplexing questions: How did the Best Grill lose so much
money in just four years? And why didn’t former Bishop State President Yvonne
Kennedy and her administration act quickly to stop the program from
hemorrhaging scarce college funds?
The Best Grill’s mission was to give students in Bishop
State’s culinary arts program an opportunity to acquire real-world experience
in the food service business. The idea had merit, but the execution evidently
was so flawed the restaurant provided few educational benefits for students.
Chancellor Byrne offered this damning judgment:
“It was losing half a million dollars a year, and I
didn’t see that it had any significant educational function.”
Under the circumstances, the chancellor was wise to redirect
$1.8 million allocated for the culinary program to technical programs at the
college. Bishop State needs to bolster its workforce training programs to meet
the growing demand for skilled workers in the economically vibrant Mobile area.
The restaurant’s woes were just one item on a long list of
problems inherited by interim President James Lowe and his transition team.
Chancellor Byrne deserves credit for quickly removing the Best Grill from the
list so that the interim president can concentrate on even more pressing
concerns, such as the threatened loss of the college’s accreditation and an
ongoing criminal investigation involving the alleged theft of financial aid.
But two-year system officials still need to get to the
bottom of the Best Grill debacle. Dr. Kennedy, who retired Tuesday but
maintains an office at Bishop State and the title of president emeritus, should
be able to shed some light on the problems in the culinary arts program. She
didn’t run the program, but she was in charge of the college while the Best
Grill was amassing hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual losses.
Kennedy has said a $94,000 legislative grant she directed to
the Bishop State foundation went to the Best Grill.
Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. said in June
he’s investigating how the money was used.
The prosecutor hasn’t presented any evidence that a crime
was committed by Kennedy or anyone connected to the Best Grill. But the
taxpayers need to know specifically what happened to the grant money and to the
$1.7 million the restaurant lost during its relatively brief existence.
State officials examined the Best Grill’s money-losing
operations and concluded that it was “inconceivable that the cost of food
items in a restaurant would be more than its sales revenue.” Someone needs
to explain why the “inconceivable” happened at Bishop State.
– Associated Press
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com