KCTCS president 'shocked' that Senate singled out community colleges for budget cuts

lblackford@herald-leader.comMarch 25, 2014 

The president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System said Tuesday he is "shocked" that the Senate's proposed state budget maintains a 2.5 percent budget cut for the system while restoring money for state universities.

The Senate also proposed new restrictions that threaten an ambitious building program proposed for community colleges statewide, said KCTCS President Michael McCall,

"I was shocked," McCall said. "We felt very comfortable with the House version, and we would like to know why we are being singled out."

The House version of the two-year, $20 billion budget cut operating funds for all state universities by 2.5 percent, but approved several major building projects on campuses around the state, including at least one project at each of 16 colleges operated by KCTCS.

The Senate, however, chose to chop building projects instead of operating funds at state universities. KCTCS was the lone exception, where building projects trumped operating funds.

It was a trade-off to make it possible for KCTCS to build, said Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, a member of the Senate budget and education committees.

"We chose to restore the others in lieu of their getting any projects," Givens said.

Under both proposals, KCTCS would raise student fees by about $8 per credit hour to pay for 75 percent of the debt issued for the projects, with the other 25 percent coming from private donations raised by the colleges.

The House plan would let KCTCS pool money from student fees in a single statewide account, but the Senate's proposal would require student fees to be used at the college each student attends.

"They decimated it," McCall said of the building program. "Some could move forward but others are totally restrictive."

For example, Bluegrass Community and Technical College has enough students that it could easily raise 75 percent of the $24 million needed for a new building at its Newtown campus. But Maysville Community and Technical College hopes to build a $28 million project on an extension campus in Morehead, but could only raise $10.1 million, McCall said.

Senate Republicans believe it would be fairer for each KCTCS campus to raise the money for its own projects rather than dump all of the extra student fees into a system-wide pool, Givens said. Under the House budget, campuses with fewer student credit-hours and pricier project wish lists, such as Gateway in Northern Kentucky, would be subsidized by community college students attending school elsewhere in Kentucky, and that's unfair, he said.

"By this approach, we're able to give each project the opportunity to stand alone," Givens said.

McCall said the Senate also gives the final decision about what to build to a college's local advisory board, rather than with the system-wide board of regents.

He said KCTCS officials will work hard to influence lawmakers as the budget goes to a conference committee, where House and Senate leaders hope to hammer out a compromise budget in the coming week.

"I want to restore the House version," McCall said. "We feel very comfortable with the version the House came up with, and we want to be treated equally."

Reporter John Cheves contributed to this story. Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford

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