Shawnee Dispatch – 10 candidates seek 4 spots on JCCC board


10 candidates seek 4 spots on JCCC board

As Johnson County Community College faces reduced funding from the state and lower property values, most candidates for the college’s board of trustees agree: Keep cuts away from the classroom.

In April, voters will choose four board members from a field of 10 candidates. In addition to incumbents Benjamin Hodge and Melody Rayl, those running are Jerry Cook, Robert Drummond, Peter Jouras, John Kanaga, Miguel Morales, John Papazafiropoulos, Stephanie Sharp and David Weeks.

Candidates responded to a number of questions submitted by the Dispatch, and the most pressing concern for candidates is how the college should move forward in the current economy.

Drummond, Olathe, president of a non-profit organization, said the college needed to evaluate how all of its expenditures relate to the fulfillment of its core mission of excellent classroom teaching.

“Undoubtedly there are important programs and activities that are currently being funded that might have to be reduced or eliminated,” he said. “In addition the entire college budget may need to be evaluated and reprioritized to keep the main focus on properly funding the instructional mission of the college.”

Drummond said the board should look for efficiencies by reducing administrative costs, combining programs or departments, creating early retirement incentives and eliminating non-essential classroom activities.

Hodge, a political consultant from Overland Park, said he has made a pledge not to increase taxes.

“While JCCC is more responsible than most local government bodies in the county, there are two important facts to consider,” he said.

First of all, he said waste does exist at JCCC, giving the example of taxpayer-funded lobbying, and the majority of the board is not willing to cut this spending. He said, secondly, the college competes with K-12 education for state dollars, and there is a tremendous amount of waste in K-12 spending.

Jouras, an attorney from Overland Park, said he agreed with budget-cutting steps the college had already taken: a hiring freeze in which, as employees retire or quit, the positions are not re-hired, and stretching out the technology usage by extending the use of its technology before replacing it.

“An additional consideration is for JCCC to place an increased emphasis on student retention to keep students not for one semester but for the full two years to complete their associate’s degree,” he said.

Kanaga, a Shawnee law student, said the college should maintain its efforts to balance its revenue sources.

“I will focus on keeping the balance to ensure that the quality of education does not deteriorate with the troubled economy,” he said. “In these difficult times, we cannot forget that education provides the foundation on which a great country and economy build.”

He said the classrooms should be the last place to see cuts, and the board should look to the areas that least affect the classroom first.

Morales, a journalist and student at the college from Olathe, said with enrollment at a record high and expected to increase in the fall, the college already has taken steps to streamline processes and consolidate resources under its new president.

Rather than turn to cuts, Morales said the college should identify innovative, long-term solutions that will improve its bottom line.

“For example, some community colleges have turned to a four-day class week to save on operational costs without affecting the number of classes offered to students,” he said. “That may not be a solution for JCCC, but it shows that community colleges have the flexibility to think outside the box. …”

Papazafiropoulos, a college-level instructor from Overland Park, said the college should examine and eliminate waste and educate staff, faculty and students on how to preserve the available resources.

“Cuts should only be utilized as the last possible action and if they are considered they should only be executed after careful study of the potential long term impact of such cuts to the college,” he said. “I am not in favor of faculty cuts under any circumstances.”

Rayl, an attorney from Olathe, said the college needed to make sure it sticks to its motto, “Learning comes first,” and place a high priority on retaining quality faculty and a wide breadth of courses.

“The challenge before us will be to reduce expenditures carefully and thoughtfully so as not to adversely affect the quality of education we provide in the classroom,” she said. “JCCC as an institution must adopt a disciplined approach to cost savings that focuses on reducing waste rather than reducing operations.”

Sharp, a former state legislator from Lenexa, said she approved of reducing employees through attrition.

“With fewer teachers, a short-term increase in class size is a reasonable solution to deal with this temporary economic situation while maintaining educational excellence, albeit in a less personalized setting,” she said.

Weeks, an Overland Park CPA, said he expects the enrollment to boom in tough economic times, so adequately serving the students would be a concern.

“I suggest that the new demand be served without adding faculty, staff, or facilities that would increase overhead expenses,” he said. “If more instructors are needed, they could be hired on a short-term contract basis.”

If cuts are necessary, Weeks said they should be cuts that do not directly affect the educational process, such as faculty and staff travel and seminar expenses.

“While over the long term training is critical to staff development, it can be deferred,” he said. “In the direct education area, more cost effective methods of delivering instruction such as online classes could be implemented.”

Cook, president of the Overland Park Convention and Visitors Bureau, did not return his questionnaire. Documents containing each candidate’s complete questionnaire responses can be found on the right-hand side of this page.