June 06, 2016 7:30AM
Shawn Naccarato, PSU’s government and community relations director, didn’t sugarcoat the news at the university’s legislative town hall on June 2.
“Whatever the arguments are about whether the tax cuts are working, from the standpoint of higher education, we have had three allotments (cuts), funding is at the same level as a decade ago and we are educating more students,” Naccarato said.
On top of that, Naccarato said, news this week that May tax collections were about $76 million below projections and a Supreme Court decision that the state’s system for funding K-12 schools was unconstitutional, combine to make the current budget picture gloomy.
“The best word I can use to describe the current situation is ‘uncertainty,’” Naccarato said.
When the state’s monthly tax receipts for February came in $54 million under expectations, Gov. Brownback cut higher education by 3 percent.
“I’m not going to say we’re out of the woods on another one (cut),” Naccarato said.
Naccarato noted that the cut to Pittsburg State was lessened by a proviso put forward by Sen. Jake LaTurner, which requires the state to consider not just state general fund aid, but total university budgets when making cuts. That method of calculation shifts more of the burden to KU and K-State because of their large research grants and other sources of income.
President Steve Scott said the university did not seek or advocate for the LaTurner proviso.
“We were pretty clear to the Board of Regents and to everyone involved that we did not advocate for that,” Scott said. “Nevertheless, it went forward and it has caused tensions within the system.”
In combination with the cuts to state aid, the legislature also lifted the previous cap on tuition. That allowed PSU to propose a 5 percent tuition increase for the coming academic year. Recent developments may make it necessary for PSU and the other regents’ universities to go back to the board with “a different number,” Scott said.
“We’re not in the business of advocating for tuition increases,” Scott said. “But we’re very much in the business of advocating for excellence.”
Even with the increase, Scott said, PSU’s tuition remains low compared to the university’s peer institutions and to others in the MIAA.
With all the worrisome news coming out of Topeka this week, PSU President Steve Scott said didn’t want his third legislative town hall to be all gloom and doom. He actually opened the meeting by asking the audience to think about good things that have happened on the campus recently.
“Just this past weekend, the Pittsburg State University women’s track team won a national championship!” Scott said to applause.
The president told the faculty and staff gathered for the town hall that all of them played a role in the success through the work they do to make the campus a supportive place for student athletes.
“Whose championship is it?” Scott asked. “It’s all of yours.”
The president went on to list other successes, including the change in leave accumulation for University Support Staff, which was recently approved by the Kansas Board of Regents.
Scott said he wanted the audience to keep those good things in mind as they listened to less cheerful news presented by Naccarato.
Naccarato added that despite recent cuts and bad budget news, the legislative session just ended included some positives for the university. Those were primarily things that did not get passed, Naccarato said.
He cited a proposal to lower the legal age for concealed carry and a bill that would have severely restricted the university’s ability to enter into public-private partnerships as two initiatives that the university opposed that did not make it through this year’s legislative process.
Scott told the group that he understood how the current lack of budget stability can affect each individual on campus, but he encouraged them to focus on the job at hand.
“Even in this environment, we’ve got to continue to innovate,” Scott said. “We will continue to support our students.”
The president predicted a “divisive” election season ahead and encouraged everyone to be informed and active, although he reminded them to be scrupulous about separating their personal political activity from the workplace.
“We have something to say about our future,” Scott said.