The head of the Kansas Bioscience Authority is trying to spread the word about what he says is a new way of doing things for the agency.
After the KBA’s board of directors approved a new investment policy during its meeting Tuesday, president and CEO Duane Cantrell told the board that one of his top priorities is meeting with state legislators and groups throughout Kansas about how things have changed.
“My view is that there has been a marked improvement in our relationship with members of the Legislature — I think particularly so with Senate leadership,” said Cantrell, who was hired in November 2012.
The board met as the KBA faces a possible funding reduction next year. Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget would drop the funding for the agency, which invests tax dollars in an effort to expand the state’s bioscience industry, to about $10 million from $35 million. The proposal would raise the funding level back to $35 million for the following year, though.
And Monday brought more budget news: Brownback proposed diverting some of the state’s bioscience dollars to the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center to be created at the Kansas University Medical Center, about $1.15 million next year and about $750,000 each year afterward.
Cantrell said after Tuesday's meeting that KBA officials had not yet been informed exactly how that proposal would affect the agency’s budget, so he declined to comment on what the effect might be.
“I focus on the things I can control,” Cantrell said. “I have no control over that, and so we will do with whatever we’re given, to head us down the path to this new strategy.”
He did tell the board that his communications with the Kansas Legislature have been focused on committees that influence the KBA’s budget.
The message he is sending, he said, is that the culture and the philosophy of the KBA are changing. Overall, he said, its attitude has shifted from one of “entitlement” to one that recognizes it needs to earn support from the state.
Part of that is the new investment strategy approved by the board Tuesday. The KBA kept the policy closed from the public while it makes revisions suggested by the board during an executive session, but Cantrell said one change is that the KBA will now focus on making real investments that will provide returns on its dollars, as opposed to awarding grants.
“Returns of those dollars were not a primary focus of the KBA’s decisions” before, Cantrell said, and that will change now.
Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman, appointed to the KBA board last year by Brownback, praised Cantrell and other KBA staff during the meeting and said he had indeed seen a change.
“I told someone the other day I could not believe how much had been done so quickly,” Rodman said. “You’re probably five months ahead of where I thought you would be.”
Rodman helped the Brownback administration oversee a $1 million audit that questioned some activities by former KBA president Tom Thornton, who resigned in 2011.