Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

Board of Regents learns from tough, lean year

August 11, 2001


Reforming the structure of higher education while also pushing for more funding during lean budget years hasn't been easy.

But the Kansas Board of Regents has taken on the task and in the process gained a respect for one another that comes from working together through difficult times.

The Kansas Board of Regents has recently moved to new offices. The agency's new address is 1000 S.W. Jackson St., Suite 520, Topeka, Kan. 66612-1368.The board's Web site address is www.kansasregents.orgThe board of regents includes:Clay Blair of Mission HillsStephen Clark of WichitaJanice DeBauge of EmporiaBill Docking of Arkansas CityLew Ferguson of TopekaJean Hampton of Dodge CityDave Kerr of PrattJack Wempe of Little RiverDeryl Wynn of Kansas City, Kan.

"We are like family," Regents Chairman Clay Blair said. "What we have in place is a team of individuals who are not playing as individuals but looking at the whole."

Vice Chairman Jack Wempe, a former legislator, said, "I think this board has done a very good job at keeping its eye on the ball. It's amazing the accomplishments that can occur when no one gets the credit."

The nine-member board is in charge of public higher education in Kansas, which receives about $700 million in state tax revenue or about $1 of every $6 in state tax funds.

Members are appointed by the governor.

Prior to 1999, the regents' responsibility extended only to the six public universities, including Kansas University.

But in 1999, lawmakers overhauled the higher education system, adding supervision of the state's community colleges and vocational-technical schools to the regents' duties.

It was a difficult marriage because many of these schools had competed against one another for funding and special programs.

William Docking, a former chairman who remains on the regents, helped lead the "re-constituted" board through the transition.

Blair became chairman last year and was re-elected for another year at the helm.

Blair describes the 1999 overhaul as a work in progress.

The ink was barely dry on the legislation that restructured higher education before state revenue problems put in jeopardy funding for improvements.

Both in the 2000 and 2001 legislative session, regents lobbied lawmakers to fund faculty pay raises, which university chiefs said were needed to keep top-rate professors from taking more lucrative jobs elsewhere.

This past session, money became even tighter as lawmakers faced a $205 million budget hole late in the legislative session.

But the faculty pay raises an average of about 6.2 percent were preserved as were several other board initiatives.

Cuts in base-budgets and technical matching-funds that were proposed early in the session were partially restored.

The board also received legislative approval that would allow universities to keep any refunds from a dispute concerning an overpayment of Social Security funds.

In addition, proposals that would provide tax credits for certain donations to universities were being studied this summer as possible legislation next year.

"We have strong momentum going for higher education in Kansas," Regent Steve Clark said.

The board also is looking at a challenging year ahead.

A consultant's report on higher education in Kansas is due in November. The purpose of the study is to review the missions and roles of all postsecondary institutions and compare their administrative structures with those from other states.

In addition, the Legislature is studying a number of higher education issues this summer, including the funding formula. Legislative leaders say state revenue can't keep up with the increase in expenses in higher education.

And another tight budget year has been projected.

In addition, the regents have a list of items to pursue, including a study of how to better administer vocational-technical training.

Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer was one of the leaders who helped push through the higher education overhaul. He says the regents have done a good job.

"People don't like change. I think (the regents) are doing it right. I'm more aggressive, but as a body they have moved in the right direction at the right speed," Sherrer said.

Sherrer said the regents' decision to tackle vocation-technical education was "a wonderful idea that is long overdue."

He said Kansas has some great vocational-technical schools, but that more needs to be done to coordinate the training with work force needs.

Aside from specific proposals, much of the work of the regents is continuing to improve relations with the Legislature.

Facing slim budgets for the past several years, some lawmakers have said they want more accountability from constituencies and less lobbying.

Blair said he agrees with this mood. Blair said he wants higher education to speak with one voice to the Legislature, rather than the individual schools pursuing their own agendas, sometimes at the expense of other schools.

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