A review of funding after the last legislative session for community colleges in Nevada — particularly Western Nevada College — revealed more problems for future years, the Restore Our College Campus Committee learned Monday at its monthly meeting.
What committee members also learned that much work needs to be done at both the local and state level to ensure the two-year colleges meet both student and community needs.
Ron Knecht, a regent for the Nevada System of Higher learning, who also represents Carson City and Churchill County, said WNC’s final budget went from $15 million for the upcoming year to $14.2 million, due in part that the Legislature eliminated furloughs for state workers.
The decline in funding, though, keeps occurring.
“We went from $20 million a year in 2009 in state funds, and the fiscal year that ended was at $15 million, a 25 percent spending cut,” Knecht said.
Originally, WNC’s allocation for the current academic year decreased to $13.3 million, another 8 percent drop, but Knecht said the Legislature applied what he called “bridging funds” to bring the total amount to more than $14 million.
In 2014-2015, Knecht said the actual funding could be $13.6 million.
“And after that year it could be worse,” said ROCCC Chairman Bob Clifford.
“Western has been brutalized, period,” Knecht chimed in, adding the prospects for receiving any “hold harmless” money may not be coming for WNC.
Hold harmless is a provision in which WNC would not be held for any loss until any funding issues could be resolved.
Committee members also showed their frustration of what they perceive is a lack of support from their rural representatives.
Michelle Dondero, retired dean of the WNC Fallon campus, asked Knecht if State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Douglas, backs WNC’s mission and future of providing an educational program. She also wondered about support from Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington.
Knecht said both legislators support WNC but admitted they need to be more vocal with their support.
“We need his voice,” Dondero said of Settelmeyer.
Knecht, though, said the strongest voice for WNC and other two-year colleges is coming from State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka.
Discussion also centered on Senate Bill 391, which originally began as a study into funding options for the community colleges. Knecht said the Northern Nevada Development Authority is seriously examining SB 391 and ways to fund educational institutions such as WNC, Great Basin College and Truckee Meadows Community College.
“NNDA still seems to be behind the idea that community colleges need to be split off from the NSHE,” he added.
Knecht said NNDA’s logic indicates unless something is done, the Legislature and especially lawmakers from Clark County will keep shortchanging funding for the community colleges. NNDA, said Knecht, is interested in looking at the California plan for funding two-year colleges, which means local communities contribute more.
“I have mixed feelings about this funding model,” Dondero said. “Churchill County is not a rich county and doesn’t have the resources to fund a community college.”
Bus Scharmann, who succeeded Dondero as dean before retiring in 2011, said the rural colleges offer better value to education with lower-level general and occupational classes. Scharmann said the committee has not received any answers to how much Churchill County contributes to higher education in Nevada and if the state wants the county to channel more more into the local campus.
“No one can figure it out,” Scharmann said, referring to questions posed to the state regarding the county’s contributions.
Knecht said WNC President Dr. Carol Lucey, who announced her retirement last month, worked hard to restore funding and programs for the college during the last legislative session.
“Carol, from my understanding, had promises made to her in the Legislature by friends and allies she depends on and was bitterly disappointed that they (promises) were not kept. After 15 years (as president) she felt it was time to go.”
Knecht said lawmakers “made promises and hung her out to dry.”
A search committee to hire a new president has not been formed, said Knecht. He hopes a committee can be in place soon because the ideal time frame would be to hire a new WNC president by January 2014.