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Archive for Friday, March 20, 1998

S REVISIONS FAR FROM OVER, OFFICIALS INSIST

March 20, 1998

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Lawrence legislators and education officials say the higher education plan doesn't do enough for state universities.

Two of Lawrence's three legislators voted against the proposed constitutional amendment to restructure higher education in Kansas, which passed the House on Thursday. It now goes to the Kansas Senate, where its future is uncertain.

``I don't feel that, No. 1, the board of regents needs to be abolished. I think they're doing a good job,'' said Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence.

And number two, ``there was a promise of more money for the regents universities, but we don't have a guarantee,'' Ballard said.

Ballard, Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence, and Rep. Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin, were among the 25 House members who voted against the plan.

Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, and Rep. Joann Flower, R-Oskaloosa, voted in favor of the resolution, which, if approved by the Senate, would go to voters in the November general election.

Gov. Bill Graves, in Lawrence for a groundbreaking Thursday, said that wouldn't happen.

``It is certainly not yet in a final form that the Senate is going to accept, nor one that we'd want Kansas voters to vote on,'' he said. ``It would be a big mistake to assume this is a product ready for the voters.''

The governor added: ``I'd reiterate an observation I made earlier in the year that the House is inclined to pass just about anything.''

Ballard and Findley both said they favored restructuring higher education. However, the plan created by the House Select Committee on Higher Education doesn't do enough for communities with regents universities, they said.

``I support it because, while it's not close to perfect, it is the first serious effort to provide the structure this state needs to develop an integrated higher education policy with potential for funding necessary to offer educational opportunities that employers will demand and students will need for the 21st century,'' Sloan said. ``I also support it because it requires a vote of the Kansas citizens, and that vote will require an extensive public discussion about the type of educational system and opportunities we not only want but will be willing to pay for.''

Findley said his vote against the resolution ``was a reluctant no.''

The plan called for increasing faculty salaries to peer levels and enhancing programs at the state's universities, Findley said.

However, ``there was no guarantee that money would be there in the future,'' Findley said. ``I had real problems with that.''

Graves voiced similar concerns. ``There is no funding,'' he said. ``I hope everyone continues to remind themselves of that.''

Findley also said he didn't like the way the plan called for a higher education council to govern state universities and merely coordinate community colleges.

``That was troubling for me,'' he said. ``If we're all going to be in one family, the rules should apply to everyone in that family, across the board, in terms of higher education.''

Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway and Board of Regents Chair Bob Talkington, Iola, said they were not surprised that a measure initiated by the Speaker of the House eventually passed the House.

``I would have been surprised had it not passed,'' Talkington said.

Regents have maintained their objections to abolishing the board, indicating that coordination between community colleges, six state universities and Washburn University could be better achieved by simply modifying the board's responsibilities.

Talkington said the state constitution already allows the Legislature to alter the regents' duties. Lawmakers could prescribe that regents oversee all institutions of higher learning for purposes of coordination only, without the costly transformation imminent under the proposed amendment.

``We could do it under the present structure, and the Legislature would still have control of it,'' Talkington said.

Furthermore, any lingering lack of trust that community colleges have toward regents institutions should have dwindled, as those in favor of taking control of local community college boards are long gone from the board and its staff.

``We had no desire to hire and fire their presidents,'' Talkington said of the regents' December decision to seek improved coordination. ``We had no desire to do away with local boards. Local boards do a good job.''

As for the measure's next stop, Hemenway said that senators have made it clear there is probably not enough time in the legislative session to ``fully study and dramatically change the system. So where it goes from here is unclear.''

-- Journal-World writer Matt Gowen and business editor Richard Brack contributed information to this story.

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

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