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Archive for Saturday, January 8, 1994

LAWMAKERS FACE FAMILIAR HIGHER EDUCATION ISSUES

January 8, 1994

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Major higher education issues facing the '94 Legislature -- Washburn University, faculty salaries, qualified admissions, community college funding -- are retreads.

Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, knows legislative history repeats.

"It's unfortunate," said the 14-year House veteran.

That's why she's wary of a plan linking state affiliation of Washburn University with pay raises for faculty at Board of Regents universities, including Kansas University.

The tactic has been tried before with mixed results.

In the late 1980s, then-Gov. Mike Hayden tied faculty salary increases under the Margin of Excellence to the transfer of Washburn to the state university system and adoption of qualified admissions for the universities.

The Margin of Excellence pay raises for faculty were eventually wiped out after a bitter debate in the House about qualified admissions.

"The Margin wasn't just voted down," she said. "At least 90 members shouted it down."

On Tuesday, Gov. Joan Finney will formally introduce her Washburn-faculty salary plan. She also will outline other policy proposals in her State of the State speech to the 1994 Legislature.

Regents asked Finney for $1.09 billion for the budget year beginning July 1. That's a $47 million increase with $34 million coming from the state general fund.

The governor's budget director recommended a $12 million cut.

KU Chancellor Gene Budig said lawmakers appear willing to consider requests of state university officials.

"There is genuine concern about our fiscal situation," he said. "They realize that the faculty salary issue poses a real threat to our continuance as a first-class state university."

He said KU faculty were paid an average of 12 percent less than professors at peer universities in other states.

To close the gap, regents proposed the three-year Partnership for Excellence. Finney endorsed the partnership and tacked on Washburn.

Under the partnership, a 5 percent tuition increase for in-state students at KU would be pushed to 9 percent -- if the Legislature raised state support for regents' schools a minimum of 3 percent annually. Tuition also would rise at the other regents' schools.

The additional revenue from tuition would be allocated to salaries of teaching faculty.

Faculty senate leaders at state universities oppose WU's affiliation.

Student leaders, including KU Student Body President John Shoemaker, support the partnership.

"Legislators have been especially impressed with the student commitment on the matter of faculty salaries," Budig said.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said she wasn't opposed to connecting Washburn to the partnership.

"It's inevitable that Washburn is going to come into the regents' system," she said. "My concern is that occur at no detriment to the other institutions."

Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, wants to see evidence the state has enough money for existing state universities, let alone Washburn.

"I'm willing to keep an open mind and listen to the debate," she said.

Praeger said it would be difficult to keep the partnership plan together once it reached the Legislature.

"It would make a whole lot more sense in the long run to consider each of these issues on their own merit," said Rep. Forrest Swall, D-Lawrence.

Charlton said it was conceivable all but the tuition increase could be stripped from the partnership. Legislators -- not regents -- control tuition rates.

Ballard said legislation to impose qualified admissions at regents' universities and to implement a statewide mill levy to support Kansas' 19 community colleges would be debated this session.

A task force recommended each county levy a 1.5 mill property tax to support two-year colleges. The new funding method would end out-district tuition paid by counties with students attending community colleges in other counties.

"Not everybody is really happy with the proposal, but people are very concerned about out-district tuition," Ballard said.

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