College mergers back on table
Less than two weeks after the Board of Regents voted to stop discussing school closures or mergers, legislators Tuesday directed the Nevada System of Higher Education to put the cuts back on the table.
The direction came from lawmakers on a subcommittee after college presidents presented cuts that did not add up to the $162 million of reductions in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget.
“It’s already ugly enough,” Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, said about the incomplete budgets. “There’s no need to put more lipstick on it.”
Chancellor Dan Klaich agreed to prepare a full impact report by April 5, including scenarios with and without closures and mergers.
“I’m capable of being uglier,” Klaich said. “But I would be remiss if I didn’t say the committee has asked me to undertake an analysis that is contrary to the direction of the Board of Regents.”
Regents had a heated debate March 11 about whether to keep discussing several distasteful scenarios, which included merging three Northern Nevada community colleges and folding the Desert Research Institute into the University of Nevada campuses at Reno or Las Vegas.
Some regents said discussion was stirring up angst and cuts of such depth were unlikely. Members of the public had spoken for more than two hours before the meeting, telling regents how closures or mergers would destroy the identity of individual institutions and would take college programs out of rural areas.
But others fought to keep the cuts on the table, saying the board should not remove the scenarios because the financial situation is still unclear and could worsen. A May report from the Economic Forum is forthcoming, and final figures for property tax revenues are expected to undershoot expectations.
“It’s a facade, it’s a ruse to ignore the current economic reality,” Chairman Roger Leavitt said at the meeting.
Regents voted 8-5 to stop discussing closures and mergers; the audience applauded.
Presidents recapped proposed cuts Tuesday, including the salary cuts, tuition increases, layoffs and academic program eliminations that drew the ire of hundreds of college students at a protest the day earlier.
Asked why the cuts did not demonstrate the full impact of the governor’s budget, Klaich pointed out that it was hardly 60 days from the governor’s State of the State address.
“We haven’t gotten far enough down in the process,” Klaich said. “I don’t think we’ve been nonresponsive.”
Leavitt testified Tuesday, asking legislators to seek out more revenue for higher education.
But he also maintained his stance that decision makers needed to consider the loathsome closure possibilities.
Not talking about those options “gives a false sense of security,” Leavitt said.