April 26, 2016 8:15AM
President Steve Scott and Shawn Naccarato, director of government and community relations, didn’t sugarcoat the message at Pittsburg State University’s legislative town hall, Monday.
“We’re really at a crossroads in the state of Kansas,” Scott told the staff, faculty and community members who filled the Miller Theater.
Despite the grim news that Scott and Naccarato shared – a $1.1 million cut for the current fiscal year, a potential 3 percent cut for the fiscal year about to start and the lack of stability and sustainability of future state support – Scott told the university staff to remain hopeful.
“This place is better than any challenges it will face,” Scott said. “I think we could tackle anything that comes our way.”
Monday’s town hall, which was scheduled at the beginning of the legislative session, followed a week in which the Kansas Consensus Revenue Estimating Group lowered its revenue estimates for the remainder of FY16 and FY17 by a combined $290 million.
In response, state budget director Shawn Sullivan announced on April 22 three options the administration believes the legislature should consider to deal with the shortfall. Each of the options includes a 3 percent cut in funding for PSU and a delay in the planned expansion of Highway 69.
At that time, President Scott said the continuing cuts “are placing our university and our community in an untenable position.”
Scott pointed out that state General Fund support for the university is at its lowest level in more than a decade.
“As a Kansan, and as the leader of Pittsburg State University, I am deeply troubled and concerned about the state’s lack of stability and predictability in its finances,” Scott said. “It is making it nearly impossible to manage the budget of the university. Clearly, this environment threatens to undermine the positive momentum that is so evident on the campus and in the broader Pittsburg community.”
Naccarato and Scott told the audience that the problems the state is facing are shared by all and that everyone has a stake in finding solutions.
“Get involved,” Naccarato said. “Go to the forums, ask the legislators questions and make sure they give you answers. Vote.”
“The solutions are among all of us,” Scott said. “We all have a responsibility to make this work.”
Scott reminded the audience that as state employees, they need to advocate with lawmakers on their own time and use their own resources.
“We would also ask you to be professional and respectful and not sink to the level of the national dialog,” Scott said.
He emphasized the university’s longstanding non-partisan approach.
“We are not for any particular candidate,” Scott said. “We are for Pittsburg State. We are for this region.”
Naccarato began Monday’s town hall with a brief recap of the laws that the legislature dealt with in the regular part of the session. He said there were six bills of interest to the university.
Two were passed, including the Lifeline 911 Bill, that grants immunity to under-aged students who call police or medical personnel to get help for others who have consumed dangerous amounts of alcohol. Pitt State students spearheaded to drive to get the bill passed, according to Naccarato. A second bill was approved that expanded the Nurse Education Scholarship Program to private institutions. Pitt State had concerns about that legislation, Naccarato said, because of worries about maintaining the quality of nursing programs and because of the potential of spreading the available scholarship money too thin across the state.
Two bills that still could be considered in the veto session include one that limits universities’ abilities to use public-private partnerships (P3s) without the approval of the legislature. Naccarato said the trend across the nation has been to encourage such endeavors.
“The bill introduced would be the first in the nation limiting P3s,” Naccarato said.
Scott added that the restrictions could have a significant impact on Pitt State in terms of projects like the proposed downtown student housing or potential expansion of the Kansas Technology Center in partnership with private industry.
A second bill introduced would modify the length of the legislative session.
Two bills that the university was following appear to be dead for the session, but Naccarato said there is no such thing as a dead bill until the session actually concludes. One would reduce the age for concealed-carry of handguns from 21 to 18. The second would have eliminated due process for post-secondary teachers at community colleges and technical schools. The university opposed both.