PCC hosts Kansas legislators at campus luncheon
Pratt Community College hosted their annual Legislative Luncheon on Dec. 12 at the Pratt campus. Managing the state budget was top concern among legislators who met with the PCC administration and board of trustees.
Guest legislators were District 32 Senator-elect Larry Alley (first term), District 33 Senator-elect Mary Jo Taylor (first term) and incumbent 114th District Representative-elect Jack Thimesch.
Linda Fund, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, was also in attendance.
When the 2017 legislative session starts Monday, Jan. 9, legislators will have to find a way to overcome a deficit in state revenues, fund education and balance the budget among the rest of the departments.
The session will be a big challenge for legislators with creating more jobs in Kansas a major issue. Alley wants to look at community colleges as a place to expand technical fields.
Thimesch said the Republican party had definitely divided into two groups and they were evenly numbered so getting unanimity will be a challenge.
"It's going to be an interesting year on our side," Thimesch said. "Trying to get a group to vote as a body won't be easy. Conversation among the party was ugly."
Thimesch said he wants stiffer drug testing requirements. Anyone who receives government assistance or subsidies should be tested once a year. He has to drug test his employees and he wants more of it.
"I'm going to push hard for it. I've got the bill written," Thimesch said. "We've got to get drugs out of Kansas."
He said if they can't change the big things then they have to change the little things and that will change the big things.
Pratt Community College President Michael Calvert presented a "PCC wish list" to the legislators and encouraged them to consider each carefully during the session. He reminded the legislators of past legislation that had impacted all community colleges including SB345 that phased out county out-district tuition. The state was going to fund those amounts but it was only funded two years and that reduced funding to the colleges.
On the wish list was a restoration of the four percent cut in funding that cost PCC about $100,000 and a loss of $4.5 million to all 19 Kansas community colleges. The cut will require tuition and or mil levy increases to local tax payers. And there could be more cuts coming.
"We're concerned about additional cuts in revenue. It's going to be a challenge to the 59 new legislators," Calvert said. "If there are more cuts, we will have to cut staff."
A five percent additional cut would cost the college from $105,000 to $106,000 and that's two staff members, Calvert said.
Also on the list is fully funding SB155, a career technical education initiative that allows high school students to enroll in technical education courses for tuition free high school and college credit courses. Calvert said he was concerned with would happen to enrollments if that funding went away.
He was also concerned about the proposed affiliation between Wichita State University and Wichita Area Technical College. He said community colleges are in favor of affiliation that makes sense but he was concerned how funding would be impacted since WSU received $71 million in state general fund money and the entire tiered technical education fund for 26 institutions was $56 million.
"It's a sticky point. We don't want them to take advantage," Calvert said.
The concealed carry issue will come to a head in 2017 and Calvert hopes the legislature will find a solution that won't increase the financial burden for colleges. In his opinion, college campuses and guns don't mix.
On the financial side, as far as revenue per credit hour goes, at PCC student tuition and fees is 22 percent, state aid is 21 percent, local taxes is 53 percent, grants and other sources is 4 percent.
Trustee Darrell Shumway said he would like to see a statewide one-tenth of a mil go into a building fund. That would be a big help, Shumway said.
One way to work on the revenue is to take a close look at income tax and close loopholes. That would give the state more revenue.
"I think we've got to see movement on closing the income tax loopholes," Thimesch said.
(Article and photo contributed by Gale Rose, Pratt Tribune)