KC Star – Johnson County Community College to consider tuition increase, budget reduction

Source: http://www.kansascity.com/115/story/1073334.html

Johnson County Community College to consider tuition increase, budget reduction
The Kansas City Star

The Johnson County Community College board will be asked next month to raise tuition an additional $4 per credit hour and reduce next year’s budget by more than $5.5 million.

“That’s a big chunk of our general fund budget,” Terry Calaway, the college’s president, told a town hall meeting of students and college staff on Friday.

He did provide some good news for the staff and taxpayers: No layoffs and no property tax increase will be recommended.

Calaway also said deep cuts of as much as 20 percent anticipated last month won’t have to be made because of recent information on property taxes and state budget cuts.

The town hall meeting took place after information about possible budget cuts leaked from a closed meeting of the college’s board of trustees. That, in turn, raised questions about the college’s compliance with the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Shortly before Calaway’s job performance evaluation, trustee Benjamin Hodge asked Calaway how he would address the declining revenue picture without raising taxes.

That Feb. 19 evaluation was closed to the public, as the open meetings law allows for the evaluation of non-elected personnel.

At that meeting, Calaway responded to Hodge’s question with a list of more than 50 specific reduction ideas and revenue enhancements that might be considered by the board.

In an interview Friday, Calaway said he was only responding to Hodge’s budget question as part of his performance evaluation.

Mike Merriam, an attorney for the Kansas Press Association and an expert on the open meetings act, said Friday that bringing up the budget material under the personnel exception was inappropriate in his opinion.

“These budget issues should not have been discussed as part of the evaluation,” he said, adding that the topics should have been handled separately.

The Kansas attorney general has said that meetings can be closed to discuss personnel only when the discussion applies to individuals, rather than groups that might be affected by a policy.

One week after the meeting, Hodge released the list at the request of a reporter for The Kansas City Star. Its existence and some of its contents were reported in the Prime Buzz section of the newspaper’s Web site.

Calaway then sent an e-mail to the college staff criticizing the release of the list.

Hodge said the list focused on pending budget issues and should be shared with the public.

Many potential cutbacks on the list won’t be necessary, Calaway said Friday, because budget reductions won’t be as deep as officials had feared.

For example, he said a reduction in benefits for retirees is not being considered.

Calaway said the April recommendation would increase the tuition rate to $69 per credit hour from $65 for Johnson County residents. Increases vary for other students. Tuition rose by $2 per credit hour last year.

To reach Jim Sullinger, call 816-234-7701 or send e-mail to jsullinger@kcstar.com.