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Archive for Thursday, February 8, 2007

96 plan may have added to repair problems

Lawmakers: ‘Crumbling Classrooms’ initiative was poorly financed

February 8, 2007

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— State universities were faced with dilapidated classrooms, a backlog of repair projects and buildings that didn't meet fire codes or federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

The year was 1996, and legislators responded by approving a much-ballyhooed "Crumbling Classrooms" initiative.

That initiative is back on legislators' minds this year, as they again consider proposals to help the universities deal with aging and deteriorating buildings. Some wonder why the universities' problems seem to have grown over the past decade, while others - and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius - believe the older initiative actually made the problems worse because of how it was financed.

"Frankly if you look at it, that proposal didn't make a lot of sense," Sebelius said Wednesday during an interview. "We kind of took a step forward and a big step back."

Sebelius is dealing with that perceived backward step by proposing a package to provide $575 million in aid to state universities over six years. Her plan includes issuing $300 million in bonds and raising Kansas Turnpike tolls to pay them off.

She also has proposed $200 million in low-interest state loans to the universities, and setting aside $75 million in existing state dollars over five years for maintenance expenses. The House already has approved that last idea.

But as legislators mull over proposals for tackling the backlog of repair projects, the ghost of "Crumbling Classrooms" haunts the discussions. Under that program, the state issued bonds to raise nearly $164 million for various projects on the six state universities' campuses.

To back the bonds, the Legislature set aside $15 million a year - from a fund used to pay for the maintenance of university buildings. Essentially, the Legislature gave the regents an advance on future maintenance dollars, rather than providing new dollars.

"What happened did not make sense - to borrow money and make them pay it out of their own repair money," said House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, who opposed the idea at the time. "That wasn't a solution."

Reggie Robinson, the state Board of Regents' chief executive officer, said, "It actually helped to create the problem we have right now."

Still, legislators ask why the regents haven't been able to keep up with building maintenance, while others question whether the state Board of Regents was diligent enough in its oversight.

Neufeld suggested that much of the "Crumbling Classroom" dollars weren't spent as he and other lawmakers intended - to repair infrastructure.

"The Board of Regents has kind of been AWOL on oversight," Neufeld said.

But a legislative audit in 2005 concluded that the regents revised their "Crumbling Classrooms" spending plans because legislators had approved a smaller initiative than the board had sought. And, it noted, individual projects were reviewed by the Legislature's Joint Committee on State Building Construction.

The audit said nearly $93 million from the 1996 initiative was spent on repairs or major remodeling, while more than $32 million went to bringing buildings into compliance with the ADA or fire codes.

"It really can't have been conceived as something that - quote - took care of the maintenance problem," Robinson said. "I don't want to denigrate 'Crumbling Classrooms' - it was important and valuable - but everybody needs to be clear about what it did."

However, some legislators grumble because more than $31 million of the "Crumbling Classrooms" funds financed new construction.

Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, said he's also frustrated that the regents aren't discussing whether any buildings can be sold or torn down.

"You have older buildings that are too costly to maintain and need to be retired," he said. "I've heard for years that we're going to look at that issue, but I never see anything come across the table."

Comments

gccs14r 7 years, 10 months ago

Let's list the Kansas universities:

KU K-State Pittsburg State Emporia State Wichita State Ft. Hays State

Plus there's Washburn, KU Med, and the Regents Center. Maybe it's time to decomission one or more of the smaller institutions, or...

I propose that we reorganize our state system into a University of Kansas system with multiple campuses, with each satellite campus having a specialty, such as language arts, engineering, biology, etc. Everybody would go to whichever campus ends up being the largest for basic education common to all majors, then move to whichever institution covers their area of study once they're a junior. Administration costs would plummet, since there would be only one chancellor, one provost, one legal team, etc., instead of one for each university. There would also be fewer administration buildings to maintain, freeing up funds to maintain buildings used for educating students. With consolidation of areas of study, fewer professors would be needed in each discipline overall, but they would be in greater abundance on one campus, improving scholarship. (Maybe there would be enough money left over to pay them better, too.) Also, the libraries could be consolidated, so that maybe they could afford to bring in more and better publications, instead of having to buy six copies of the same thing, one for each institution.

Better education, better service, lower cost--what's not to like?

bugmenot 7 years, 10 months ago

Putting KU's name on the likes of Emporia State University, for one.

fletch 7 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, that idea makes no sense gccs14r. First off, universities function very poorly when you treat them like vocational schools. Very few degree programs are structured with your two years of general study and 2 years of specialization. Curricula intertwine the classes and allow for flexibility. Also, your plan would virtually eliminate the ability to switch majors, so now you're got a dearth of people flunking out or stuck with degrees they have no interest in pursuing. Second, you'd have to have an enormous campus to support every freshman and sophomore in the state in one location. Not even KU would have the space, let alone the housing needed for that many students. Third, you would still need "administration" buildings at every campus. Campus administration isn't just he provost and chancellor. It's advising, career counseling, health services, police, maintenance, housing, food services, etc. You'd still have to have all of those services at every campus, and they'd have to be equal on all campuses, thus increasing costs. Fourth, overall student recruitment would drop because few students are going to be willing to go to a university that crams all their students into one location for 2 years, only to force them to move across the state, leaving their friends behind. Athletics would also be decimated, and seeing how televised college games are one of the primary ways to promote a University to a nationwide audience, that would be a stake through the heart of admissions and recruitment. Lastly, any large scale reorganization like you suggested would be a large number of administrators and professors would be fired at once, damaging our reputation on a national level, preventing the future recruitment of qualified professionals.

So overall your idea would be a worse education, with less services, catering to a lower enrollment, and at a high cost. Brilliant.

gccs14r 7 years, 10 months ago

Fine. Close one or two of the surplus universities, then. It's obvious that we can't afford to maintain what we have, so we need to have less to maintain.

I think you're incorrect about the cost savings, and space wouldn't be an issue if, for example, the School of Engineering at KU was moved to Wichita, freeing up that bloc of buildings for gen ed.

Many services provided by the administration can be handled remotely, whether by web conference or e-mail, and advising is handled at the department or school level, so while there is a need for adivsors on each campus, there woudn't need to be as many of them and they could be better-versed in the needs of their students. As for the other services, yes, there is a need for the services, but the administrative overhead for each service does not need to be duplicated at each location, so expensive headcounts go down without reducing services.

Anyone attracted to a university for its athletic program has lost sight of what a university is for and is welcome to spend money with an organization that is better suited to their needs.

Large-scale reorganizations don't happen quickly, so there wouldn't be a "Black Friday" on which hundreds or thousands of folks would be fired at once. Departments would have to be moved probably one at a time, with the entire operation stretching out over a decade. There would be ample opportunity for natural attrition to trim most staffs.

Porter 7 years, 10 months ago

"the School of Engineering at KU was moved to Wichita" - Somebody better tell the 2000 engineering students and professors that are still in Lawrence!!

gccs14r - have you ever been on a college campus?

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