Local control for colleges

 

Greenfield Recorder 04/18/2012, Page A01

Legislators’ plan keeps control more local than Patrick’s

By JOHN TILTON

Recorder Staff

GREENFIELD — Local legislators view the latest Statehouse plan for running community colleges as better than the governor’s proposal to centralize control in Boston, but many believe that there is still more to be done to assure that communities maintain control of community colleges.

In January, Gov. Deval Patrick called for stronger central oversight of the 15 community colleges by consolidating budgeting and administrative decisions in Boston as part of a larger effort to bolster job growth.

“It was my opinion (the governor’s) proposal was an overreaction, which could be remedied with less drastic measures,” said state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Last week, his committee released its budget proposal that would modify many of what he called Patrick’s “drastic measures.”

“I’m happy that they are moving in the direction of tryingto preserve as much local control as possible,” said state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst. “They are putting in some additional components that gives (the Board of Higher Education) the opportunity to have more input than in the past with out taking total control away.”

“I definitely think this is a step in the right direction,” said state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru. Mark sits on the Joint Committee on Higher Education. “(House Speaker DeLeo) said it best, the people here know better than a bureaucrat in Boston. They have been responding to the pressure, and I think we are moving in the right direction.”

However, they agreed that more may need to be done, or at least approached cautiously, as the proposal moves forward. The committee’s biggest step toward retaining local control would restore individual line items in the state budget to fund each community college.

Kulik said that this would allow the Greenfield Community College trustees to maintain control over their budget. The governor proposed a single line item to fund all the colleges, money that would be doled out through the state Board of Higher Education.

“We feel it is important to maintain the ability of each community college to advocate for the budget it needs,” said Kulik. “Having a single lump sum would tend to cut out the ability to communicate that need.”

The committee has tasked the board with developing a new funding formula for the colleges in “consultation” with the college presidents. However, local officials have expressed concern that the formula would be based on enrollment, which would put smaller schools like Greenfield Community College at a disadvantage.

“This is a process that we want to enter with great caution,” said Kulik. “We are small, and I would not want to see us disadvantaged because a formula was designed that does not account for the needs of our region.”

“Clearly enrollment has to be involved,” said Rosenberg. “We also have to remember that we have a very small campus, and we need to find an approach that does not disadvantage small campuses just because they are small.”

Local college officials also were unhappy with the governor’s proposal for selecting campus presidents, now chosen by local trustees.

The governor’s proposal empowered his Board of Higher Education to select the campus presidents.

But under the Ways and Means proposal, the higher education board would have a voting member on the president search panel and establish the procedures that the committee must follow, but not have complete say.

At the same time, the Ways and Means budget maintains the governor’s power to select the chair of the trustees, with the stipulation that the chair must come from the geographic region. Currently the governor appoints all of the trustees, and they elect a chair among themselves.

“The governor believes this is a way the local board can become aligned with a statewide mission for community colleges, particularly in the area of workforce and economic development,” said Kulik. “We are willing to try that out.”

Mark has expressed concern about removing the trustees’ ability to elect their own chair and has filed an amendment to restore that power. However, Mark said there is still a long way to go in the legislative process, and the committee’s proposal is a step in the right direction.

“I’m hopeful that we will be much happier with the final product,” said Mark.

You can reach John Tilton at: jtilton@recorder.com or413-772-0261 ext. 264