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House panel backs $1.1M more to GCC


Greenfield Recorder 04/11/2013, Page A01

By CHRIS SHORES Recorder Staff

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Community College stands to see a funding increase of $1.1 million next year, after the state’s House Ways and Means Committee affirmed Gov. Deval Patrick’s community college budget recommendations Wednesday.

This will allow the college to forestall any increases in student fees and fill in some areas, like the library, that have seen cuts in recent years, said GCC President Bob Pura.

An increase of $20 million was poured into a community college pot and allocated among the state’s 15 community colleges using a funding formula designed by Pura and other community college presidents.

It means — if this allocation holds during the next three months of budget discussions by the Legislature — that GCC will receive $8.9 million in state funding next year.

“This is a good day for GCC. This is a good day for community colleges,” said Pura, thanking state Reps. Stephen Kulik, Paul Mark and Denise Andrews for backing the college.

“We could not have fared better,” he said. “Clearly there’s a ways to go … but it’s a hopeful next step.”

The Ways and Means budget calls for $33.8 billion in spending — $1 billion less than what the governor asked for in his proposal.

Kulik — a Democrat from Worthington who vice-chairs the Ways and Means Committee — called higher education increases “a focal point” of the budget.

Over the past 20 years, there has been a steady and increasing commitment to primary and secondary education, he said. That increase will continue this year with an increase of $109 million in Chapter 70 state aid for public primary and secondary schools — although that is about half of what the governor proposed.

“During that (20-year period) we felt that higher education, which has seen cuts for the past few years, has really suffered,” said Kulik. “We just felt they were overdue for an increase.”

Kulik said he was happy to honor the funding formula, devised by Pura and other community college presidents, that factor in the schools’ costs while also rewarding positive academic performance.

“I think the House numbers make a lot of sense, I think they’re justifiable,” said Kulik, who was optimistic that the college’s allocation would be able to hold through the next three months of budget discussion.

The $8.9 million is on par with the college’s 2008 funding level, said Pura.

In the past few years, the state money has accounted for between 40 and 45 percent of the college’s overall revenue. It was 41 percent last year and could be as high as 47 percent next year, said Chief Financial Officer Tim Braim.

The college also received an additional $620,000 to cover all collective bargaining agreements, said Pura.

The Ways and Means budget also increases funding to state universities by $15 million and funding to the University of Massachusetts system by $39 million.

And although Chapter 70 aid is much lower than Patrick proposed — because the Legislature is rejecting his proposal of $1.9 billion in new taxes — Kulik said the Ways and Means budget will get the job done for Massachusetts elementary and secondary schools.

He said that this budget calls for more money in special education reimbursement and regional school transportation than the governor’s budget did.

“We’re spending less but I think we’re spending it more intelligently,” said Kulik.

The full House will pass its budget by the end of April, and the Senate will follow in May. A conference committee, with members of both the House and Senate, will then meet and submit a final version to Patrick near the end of June.

UMass funding

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy Wednesday praised House legislative leaders for their proposed state budget, which places the university on the path to a 50-50 funding formula and a freeze on tuition and fees.

“Investing in public higher education brings extraordinary returns in an increasingly competitive, international marketplace,” said Subbaswamy. “This budget supports the vital need of ensuring a high-quality, affordable education for UMass students.”

Currently, the state provides 43 percent of the cost to educate a student with students providing 57 percent. The university has proposed, under the leadership of President Robert Caret, that funding to reach the 50-50 formula could be phased in over a two-year period given the state’s fiscal challenges. In exchange, the university’s board of trustees has pledged to approve a two-year freeze in tuition and fees. Part of the university’s success in managing costs is an ongoing efficiencies program that has yielded more than $100 million to date with additional savings expected.

You can reach Chris Shores at:cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264