Archive for Saturday, January 16, 1999

EDUCATION SUPPORT

January 16, 1999

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University and community college officials aren't the only ones who seem to be holding back on their support of a new higher education governance plan.

This seems a little like a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Gov. Bill Graves officially received the report of the Governor's Task Force on Higher Education Structure for Excellence on Friday. The content of the report was no surprise. It calls for the creation of two new state boards that would be appointed by the governor. A nine-member board of trustees would oversee the state's 19 community colleges. And a new seven-member higher education coordinating council would oversee certain aspects of the operations of all the state's public universities and community colleges.

Although task force members representing state universities, community colleges, the Kansas Board of Regents and vocational-technical schools voted in favor of the plan, the larger groups they represented are taking a cautious approach to the proposal. And that seemed to disappoint Graves and Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, who chaired the task force.

"If you don't take a stand because the Legislature might change it, I guess you never take a stand on anything, because everything is subject to change by the Legislature," Sherrer said.

And yet, the reaction of the governor, himself, to the plan has been somewhat guarded. Graves was quoted Friday as saying the plan was "an excellent framework" for discussion, not the best possible plan, something he would support wholeheartedly. And although Graves will send the proposal to the Legislature as it was drafted by the task force, he has included no money in his budget to implement the plan.

The philosophy he espoused at a budget briefing early last week was that he wanted to deal with higher education governance issues separately from the major funding proposals that were part of the discussions last year. A House special committee last year attached $138 million in increased university funding and property tax relief to its higher education governance proposal, in an apparent effort to try to attract more votes for the plan.

Graves said that if governance changes are made and legislators could see that higher education was being run in a more efficient and coordinated manner, they would be more likely to support additional funding for both universities and community colleges. It's a philosophy that isn't without merit, but it may be a little high-minded.

And even the task force plan carries some cost. Sherrer questioned on Friday why anyone would be worried about the cost of the plan and said it probably would cost only a few million dollars to create and staff the new boards. But the governor has left it to the Legislature to find that funding, rather than including anything in his budget proposal.

Although Graves and Sherrer seem to be criticizing various higher education representatives for hesitating to give the task force plan their full endorsement, the governor's response to the plan seems less than enthusiastic. Perhaps he is waiting to see if the plan gains momentum in the Legislature before committing himself completely. It's certainly not unreasonable for higher education officials to adopt the same strategy.

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