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Archive for Friday, March 6, 1998

REGENTS REITERATE POSITION ON PLAN

March 6, 1998

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— A House panel approved a draft of a higher education reform bill that will be introduced today in the Kansas House.

Scornful of a 70-page bill designed to reform higher education, Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Robert Talkington made it clear Thursday he opposes the bill for one major reason.

``This can be accomplished without taking the drastic action of abolishing the Board of Regents,'' Talkington told the House Select Committee on Higher Education.

Talkington, a former state senator who has served on the regents for three years, told the panel several times that the goal of the plan -- coordinating all post-secondary education -- can be accomplished under the existing structure.

He said he has been told the only reason for abolishing the regents was the mistrust that community college advocates have of the body.

But Talkington said that mistrust is unfounded. A Kansas University law school graduate, Talkington said he has also attended community colleges and that his five children all have community college credits. Other regents also have ties to community colleges, he said.

Talkington said he understood that some regents in the past have ``left bad feelings'' with community colleges. However, those regents are gone, he said.

Talkington and representatives of community colleges, vocational schools and Topeka's Washburn University all spoke Thursday at a hearing on the higher education restructuring plan.

The plan includes a resolution that would ask voters in November to change the state's constitution to abolish the nine-member board of regents, which governs the state's six universities.

It would be replaced by an 11-member Council on Higher Education, which would govern the six universities and Washburn and coordinate the state's community colleges, area vocational schools and technical colleges.

After hearing the testimony, the committee approved a draft of the constitutional amendment and a bill containing the other aspects of the plan, which were to be introduced today in the House.

The committee planned to make any last-minute changes in the legislation at 11:30 a.m. today.

The legislation, which is being pushed by House Speaker Tim Shallenburger, is tied to a $40 million increase in the governor's higher-education budget for next year. Part of those funds are designed to begin bringing faculty salaries up to peer levels over four years and to provide tax relief for counties now paying for community colleges.

Senate leaders and Gov. Bill Graves have indicated the plan would not get past the House this year.

During the hearing, Tom Burke, president of the Kansas City, Kan., Community College and president of the Kansas Association of Community Colleges, said ``statewide coordination has never been an issue of community colleges.''

``The issue has been one of governance,'' Burke said.

He said the regent's constitutional power to govern has been the main concern of community colleges, which are governed by local boards of trustees.

``This is extremely important, not only from the ability to respond to community needs but also from the taxing authority of these boards,'' he said.

Burke said he also was concerned that community colleges were given only two positions on the new 11-member council.

Talkington complained that the regents schools should be given a majority of seats on the council, rather than merely five.

Ken Clouse, the president of the Kansas Association of Area Vocational Schools said he felt those schools got shortchanged by having only one member. One council seat would be appointed by Washburn.

David Monical, executive director of governance and university relations for Washburn, said Washburn supported the proposal, although it had some technical suggestions.

During deliberations, Rep. David Adkins, R-Leawood, the committee chairman, said he favors being able to appoint current regents to sit on the new board for continuity's sake.

Rep. Ed McKechnie, D-Pittsburg, said he would oppose efforts to place a prohibition on current regents to serve on the council.

-- Dave Toplikar's phone message number is 832-7151. His e-mail address is toplikar@ljworld.com.

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