The long-running soap opera of Roxbury Community College

There was a time that missteps by administrators at Roxbury Community College were met with sighs and snickers over the continual stream of malfeasance at the two-year state school. But the recurrence of questions over administration and finances continues to roil what was planned to be a crown jewel for the beleaguered community and will once again raise the specter of merging it with Bunker Hill Community College.

The history is not pretty. Lawrence Johnson, the very first president of Roxbury Community, was fired just months after the school opened its doors in 1973 and it was a revolving door for decades after. Brunetta Wolfman. Walter Howard. Grace Brown. Terrence Gomes. These are but a few of the names of RCC presidents who have been fired or forced to resign since the school’s founding.

The school found some stability for about 10 years beginning in 2001 but in 2012, once again amid questions of financial mismanagement, then-Gov. Deval Patrick replaced the six-member Board of Trustees and Gomes, who was under a cloud from money problems and mismanagement at the school.

The latest contretemps involves the suspended director of the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, which is housed at the school. Keith McDermott, the longtime director of the facility, was placed on administrative leave after questions were raised about the track’s management. The state auditor, who had been brought into the mess, kicked the inquiry over to the attorney general’s office, saying the allegations appeared to be more for law enforcement to consider than her office.

Last week, Attorney General Maura Healey determined there was nothing to the allegations, clearing McDermott. But Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker, one of the few in the media keeping an eye on the school and its place in the community, says McDermott has been damaged by an administration led by President Valerie Roberson that is carrying on some of the worst of RCC traditions.

“Every few years, it seems, Roxbury Community College is on the verge of meltdown,” Walker writes. “Roberson was brought in after the last administration was run out a few years ago, in the wake of a series of Globe stories and columns about sweeping mismanagement at the school. Much of the school’s board was pushed out as well. But the new bosses are barely an improvement over the old bosses.”

Walker said Roberson emailed him a statement on Saturday declaring the school had reached a severance agreement with McDermott, only to admit the following day the announcement was premature.

There is a bill in the Legislature that would remove oversight of the track from RCC, a move that is opposed by members of the community as well as school administrators. There is also revival of talk about the Roxbury-Bunker Hill merger that would be a big hit to the community psyche and image. State Rep. Chynah Tyler has waded into the issue, calling for a community meeting on the future of the track and the school’s place in Roxbury, and tonight, the RCC board is scheduled to meet in what will be a tension-filled public hearing.

But caught in the crosshairs of the continual Keystone Kops approach to education administration are the nearly 2,500 students of the school that once held promise to bring education to them rather than force them to travel some distance to get what many suburbanites have much easier access to.

“RCC is a precious community resource,” writes Walker, “and it is beyond frustrating to see yet another management team mired in fruitless drama, rather than building the institution Boston needs RCC to become.”



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