Topeka Representatives with The Blackstone Group have met with Kansas higher education officials and are reporting back to Gov. Sam Brownback on ways to cut costs in state government, according to higher education officials.
Blackstone is best known for working as consultants in the private sector to restructure and turn around financially troubled corporations.
Top officials at Kansas University and Kansas State University recently said that Blackstone representatives have met with the school officials and planned to report back to Brownback. But since the meeting, the school officials say they haven’t heard anything more.
Blackstone representatives met in July with members of the Council of Business Officers, which includes the chief business officer of each state university.
In response to inquiries from the Lawrence Journal-World, KU officials divulged scant information on the meeting outside of what was cited in the minutes of another meeting last month.
Bruce Shubert, vice president for administration and finance at Kansas State, made brief remarks about Blackstone to the Council of Presidents, which consists of the leaders of state universities.
The minutes of that meeting say, “The Blackstone Consulting group was engaged to evaluate State of Kansas units to identify opportunities to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Questions about university funding and operations, purchasing practices and program review procedures were answered. Barry Swanson, from KU, recently provided additional purchasing saving information he has been collecting. Blackstone was expected to provide a report to the Governor in August.”
The Kansas Board of Regents referred a question about Blackstone to Brownback’s office. But Brownback’s office says Blackstone has not been hired to work on the governor’s behalf.
Peter Rose, a spokesman for Blackstone said, “I am sorry but we cannot discuss confidential client assignments.”
Shortly after taking office in January, Brownback had a two-hour meeting with Blackstone representatives, according to a report by Bloomberg News. The news organization cited unnamed sources as saying the discussion centered on ways to sell state assets, streamline operations and downsize state government.
The Kansas state budget has been hit hard in recent years because of the recession, resulting in cuts to education, social services and public safety. But tax collections for the first quarter of the current fiscal year are running 8.8 percent ahead of last year, and 5 percent more than earlier revenue estimates.
Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Ed McKechnie of Arcadia said he thought discussions between state officials and Blackstone representatives would be beneficial in getting an outside perspective.
“It doesn’t hurt to talk,” he said.