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College works to stay open

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

The new leadership at Mid-Continent University has worked throughout the week in trying to bring the college out of the precarious position on the edge of a fiscal cliff.

Acting president Ken Winters, who was named to the position last Saturday during the Board of Trustees meeting, said he has been working with school consultants and the financial department to analyze the budget and help the university reach spring graduation, currently set for May 10.

He has also spent time soliciting endowment funds and private donations from individuals and churches to help build a donor base. Winters also is still considering the possible sale of property on U.S. 45 across from the main campus or the 19 acres on Pecan Drive in Paducah.

"We want to urge students to stay with us because we have been working and working hard for you," he said

Winters took over the position after Robert Imhoff, who had served as president since 2000, stepped aside last week. Board chairman Tom Butler said Imhoff, who is under contract until 2015, will continue to receive a paycheck until his contract is bought out by the board. He wouldn't discuss specifics of the per year amount or how much it would cost to end the contract early.

"Our emphasis has been on finding the funds so the school can continue to operate," Butler said. "Tough decisions have to be made but we can't do everything at once."

Imhoff has indicated his willingness to address the contractual obligations and Butler said the Board of Trustees could evaluate the issue during the next meeting on Saturday. He said the board doesn't plan to delay the decision and would be open to discussion if questions are raised during the meeting.

Butler said Imhoff's wife, Jackie Imhoff, vice president for adult programs, hasn't officially stepped aside but is maintaining a low profile.

In the Department of Education Program Review Report from November 2011, the vast majority of the 18 findings of noncompliance were related to the Advantage Program, which includes nontraditional students taking online courses and classes at one of the school's satellite campuses. More than 2,000 of the nearly 2,400 total students, or 88 percent, are enrolled in the Advantage Program.

Robert Imhoff is the only member of the school administration on a multiyear contract. Jackie Imhoff has a contract due to expire in June that can be renewed yearly. The two contracts are the only ones set by the board, while the compensation for other school employees on a contract are set by the president, Butler said.

He said the Board of Trustees historically mandates the compensation package for the college president, which includes a base salary and additional benefits, reviewed annually by the board. Trustees also have set the contract for Jackie Imhoff because of the conflict of interest related to her relationship with Robert Imhoff.

The board is comprised of two members called messengers, each from about 18 churches in western Kentucky, southern Illinois and west Tennessee within the regional Baptist Association as well as other at-large members. The bylaws mandate that representatives have to be comprised of one pastor and one lay person from each church to serve on the board, Butler said.

The representatives serve staggered terms, with about a third of the board members' terms expiring at the end of the year. The board will then decide whether or not to renew the member if he or she wishes to continue on the board. The board also holds yearly nominations and elections for the chairman, vice chairman and secretary positions. Butler has served as chairman for 16 years.

The private independent school that is operated by the associated churches is still awaiting the decision from the federal Department of Education regarding a fourth round of paperwork that would free up a small portion of the frozen $9 million in student grant and loan funding. Tim Walker, Mid-Continent vice president of finance, delivered the documentation to the Department of Education's field office in Kansas City, Mo.,  on Monday.

Officials have voiced an expectation that the department will notify the school quickly but Winters said Thursday the school had heard nothing. He said the process which would usually take three to four weeks has been accelerated and the Department of Education has agreed to look at a sample of the documentation. He hopes to receive a decision by next week.

Winters voiced the need to have more frequent Board of Trustees meetings to keep the group informed and allow members to ask questions. The next meeting is set for 10 a.m. Saturday in the Advantage building on campus.

"We want to go into it to share and have conversations with them," Winters said. "The school needs them to input their thoughts because important decisions will have to be made in the coming weeks."

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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