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Kentucky State University says it needs help to fix ‘atrocious’ facilities conditions

The interim leadership of KSU presented to state lawmakers Wednesday on turn-around efforts.
Legislative Research Commission
The interim leadership of KSU presented to state lawmakers Wednesday on turn-around efforts.

Leaders at Kentucky State University say they may need more help from state lawmakers to address dire facilities conditions. Officials at the historically Black university told lawmakers they’re trying to dig the school out of a financial mess, but leaky roofs, bugs and broken flooring are sending prospective students “running away.”

During a committee meeting Wednesday, the school’s interim leadership team showed lawmakers photos of buckets collecting water from leaking roofs, missing and broken floor tiles, soiled carpets, defunct HVAC units and university vehicles with broken tail lights.

“Keep in mind, the first 10 minutes that these parents and students are walking around campus that this is what they're seeing,” KSU Interim Chief of Staff Daarel Burnette said.

Last week, university officials issued a declaration of emergency regarding the state of its buildings.

Kentucky State is under pressure to improve enrollment, graduation rates and address financial woes after a report came out in 2021 showing the university faced a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall and alleged misconduct by former leaders.

The state overhauled the school’s governing board last year and installed a turn-around team that includes Burnette and KSU Interim President Ronald Johnson.

Burnette said the school is trying to boost enrollment and shore up finances, but it’s difficult when students, faculty and staff are being exposed to “atrocious” conditions because the school doesn’t have enough custodial and maintenance staff.

Burnette said KSU is in the early negotiating stages with “someone that can come in and help us remedy these problems.” But Burnette added, “we're not too sure how much that's going to cause and we may end up having to come to you all for some assistance.”

Republican lawmakers, however, signaled reluctance to intercede.

Kenton County Republican Sen. Christian McDaniel blamed the state of the historically Black school’s facilities on a “bad culture.”

“In a lot of those little things — gutter-cleaning, trash pickup — that's just culture,” McDaniel said.

“We want to see you succeed,” McDaniel continued, “but I would also say the General Assembly is probably at the end of its financial patience with Kentucky State University. And so we really need you to come with a good, solid financial plan.”

Last year, the GOP-led legislature gave KSU the $23 million it needed to stay afloat, on the condition that educational outcomes improve. Some Republican leaders have suggested they would shutter the institution if it doesn’t turn around.

Franklin County Rep. Derrick Graham, a Democrat and KSU alumnus, said lawmakers are in part to blame for the school’s troubles. Graham said over the decades, the school has been treated differently than other predominantly white institutions, like the University of Kentucky or the University of Louisville.

“We cannot put this only on Kentucky State University,” Graham said. “It is also on the General Assembly, because the General Assembly has not provided the funding that the administrations have requested, year after year, after year, after year.”

KSU has until Nov. 1 to submit an improvement plan to lawmakers, which must include strategies for strengthening management, finances, enrollment, graduation rates and plans to develop online degrees.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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