The Appropriations Act, which spells out how state General Fund money will be spent over the coming two years, includes a total of $4.95 million in cash added to help Western Nevada and Great Basin colleges make the transition to the new university system funding formulas.
The new formulas left those two community colleges and the Desert Research Institute in deep fiscal trouble because it moves large amounts of existing money to the major universities — UNLV and to UNR — in large part by increasing the focus on full-time students instead of the part-timers who typically attend community college.
“The college is very grateful for the support provided by the Legislature for bridge funding,” said WNC President Chet Burton. “These funds are critical in supporting the programs the college has initiated for growth and enhanced student services. This includes the new Jump Start College program and advanced manufacturing training.
“This funding will greatly assist us in putting the college on a solid financial foundation going forward.”
Bob Clifford, chairman of the Restore Our College Campus Committee, said the group is pleased that the $1.95 million of bridge funding for WNC is included in the Appropriations Act budget.
“Chet Burton is doing a great job of adapting WNC to the new formula, but the formula cuts are so great that WNC funding would have been falling off a cliff and leaving WNC potentially in a ‘death spiral’ where forced cuts lead to reduced enrollment,” Clifford said.
He said WNC has enough funding to complete the transition.
“Community college funding overall still seems unreasonably tight compared with the big money being thrown at K-12 programs,” Clifford added. “We will see if all that thrown money gets results or ends up just being thrown away.”
Two former presidents from Nevada’s community colleges said earlier this month that the new formula would cause irreparable damage to those small colleges.
Carol Lucey, who led WNC for 14 years, and John Gwaltney, who was president at Truckee Meadows Community College for nine years, both said the new formulas were designed to benefit the universities and do so at the expense of everything else in the system.
They questioned that logic at a time when particularly WNC and GBC are expected to train new workers for Tesla, Switch and other high-tech companies coming to northern Nevada.
They emphasized that, at a minimum, WNC and Great Basin needed “bridge funding” to get them through the transition period implementing the new formula. The Board of Regents recommended that bridge funding but Gov. Brian Sandoval cut it out of his recommended budget at the same time pumping money into plans for a second Nevada medical school to be located at UNLV.
Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill, R-Carson City, and Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, who represent the parts of Nevada served by those two small colleges, have been working through the session to at least restore bridge funding.
They apparently succeeded as the language was included in the budget introduced Sunday.
In addition, the Appropriations Act includes $477,312 to help DRI handle the cost of funding lost under the new formula. DRI’s problem is that, as a research institution, it has very few students. The formula funds the university system’s different colleges through a system that calculates the number of credit hours of class taken by students.
But the budget bill puts even more money into the proposed UNLV Medical School than the governor had in his budget.
The regents had sought $7.1 million in fiscal 2016 and $19.6 million in 2017 to jump start creation of that school but Sandoval’s recommended budget contained just $1.2 million and $7.1 million.
Nevada Controller Ron Knecht, who served as a NSHE regent before the 2014 election, fought to restore the bridge funding even after leaving his regent’s post.
“No one in the process — not the Board of Regents, nor the NSHE Administration, nor the Legislature, nor especially the governor — has done at all the right thing for WNC,” he said. “The terrible cuts in state general funds for WNC in recent years have been an outrage and a disaster.”
First as regent and now as controller, Knecht said he has worked with the people WNC serves and educated them about the new formula.
“First, the formula used by NSHE is nonsensical — academically incompetent — and very biased against the small community colleges and essential basic undergraduate education,” he pointed out. “Second, cutting actual general fund spending at WNC by one-third in recent years is an insult to students, faculty and staff and to the communities WNC serves. This whole thing is beyond disappointing — to depressing.
“While I’m relieved that the cuts the governor made to NSHE’s awful proposal have been restored by the Legislature, even the amount passed is nowhere near enough. I will continue to fight to fix this outrage in the coming months and years. My heartfelt thanks go to the people of the WNC communities and to the students, faculty and staff who continue to stand up with me on this issue.”
Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, made it clear he intended to use some of the additional funding freed up by money committee budget reductions and enhanced revenues to fully fund the medical school that he described as critically important to Southern Nevada.
The budget does just that, adding $5.9 million the first year and $12.5 million the second to bring total funding to the amount the regents originally sought.
The budget also contains pay raises for state workers — 1 percent in 2016 and 2 percent in 2017. Those increases include classified workers in not only direct state service but those paid through the highway fund and classified workers in the university system.
They do not include the professional merit pool funding sought by university professional staff — primarily professors and administrators.
Those employees will, however, get the same 1 and 2 percent raises granted all other state workers.
Altogether, the pay raises will consume $36.6 million over the biennium.
LVN Editor Steve Ranson contributed to this article.