The DCCC Board of Trustees approved a proposal to cede academic control of the college to Fort Hays State University, a process that could take several years, trustees said.
Without addressing the concerns of the back room process that birthed the plan, the Dodge City Community College Board of Trustees voted unanimously to eventually cede academic control of the institution to Fort Hays State University in exchange for a technical institute and limited four-year degree programs.
Even with the vote, before DCCC becomes "FHSU at Dodge City" or the same by another name, the plan would have to pass through the state's Board of Regents, both houses of the Legislature and the governor's office, proponents of the deal said at the regular board meeting Tuesday.
However, that traditionally grueling process may start with tilted hurdles as the political process from DCCC to the governor's office was described by the spouse of a local legislator.
Marsha Ewy, a nursing instructor and wife of Rep. John Ewy (R-Jetmore), spoke of secret, invite-only meetings in Hays with a "handful of hand-picked people present."
At one point, John Ewy, a long time educator at the college, was included in the discussions between the administration, academic officials and legislators, until "he asked too many questions, and he wasn't asked to any more meetings," his wife said.
"He was given the same pat answers" that concerns raised by faculty members as they were made aware of the proposal a few days before it was approved.
Ewy said she agrees that a "two plus two" program, in which a second institution would set up shop on campus to provide a ladder beyond two-year degrees, would be beneficial to the college and the community.
"However, this is not a two plus two. It is a merger. I consider it a takeover."
The vote on the proposal needed to be delayed to be examined "in the spirit of truth and light," she said. "Back door politics are never a good practice. We need to do our due diligence to make the right choice."
In response to Ewy's statement, Board of Regents member Shane Bangerter, an attorney appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback to the board, said time was running out for the board to agree to the proposal, and spoke about the "big picture" without addressing concerns about the process in which he was a central figure.
"What we have here is an opportunity that's going to exist for a few months. We need to think really long and very hard if this is something this community wants to do or not do. What we have is an opportunity to take what we have and enhance it by a factor of three or four times," Bangerter said.
The main element of the plan would be to establish the technical institute, which would double or triple the population of the campus if the new institute can secure corporate partnerships and the students to attend.
If approved by the state entities, the state would build a $10 million building and provide $5 million annually to the school.
Bangerter assured the standing-room-only crowd that the Board of Regents would back the plan. He also downplayed the role of the upper division college, classes typically taken by college sophomores and seniors pursuing a bachelor's degree.
"Based on demand," the upper division classes would draw between 60 and 200 students, he said.
Throughout the open comment portion of the board meeting, those in support of the plan stated that this first vote was not a finished product, and that the process could take years.
"Don't make assumptions on facts that you don't have," Bangerter said to the audience. "Let this thing play out. What we've seen here is a big picture. The details are to come."
Shawn Tasset, a Ford County Commissioner but speaking "as a resident of Ford County," painted the actions of the board and the secret group orchestrating the deal as poisoned fruit from a healthy tree.
"Fort Hays State University is a great school. We have a great asset here with DC3. I'm not standing in opposition of bringing in some of the things I've seen," he said.
"My concerns start when you start talking, 'Let's get it in front of the governor, let's get it in front of the Board of Regents,' … there's never a mention of getting it in front of the voters. Voters are the ones we had to go in front of to start this school, to start the mill levies. ... They deserve every consideration. For what this is going to do for them, or to them, and to the investment they've made in this school. It's about students, but it's also about the people that foot the bills. They need to be included in the discussion," Tasset said.
If the plan is approved, the DCCC taxing entity will continue to collect a mill levy, though it may be lowered based on the needs of the institution to support maintenance, security, athletics, debt service and scholarships.
"If we're not putting it in front of our voters for a final decision, we've got a travesty. If we don't put it in front of them, this is wrong. Our government, whether at the federal level or at the Ford County level, seems to have a nasty habit lately of not wanting to trust the voter. We need to change that," Tasset concluded.
Board of Trustees Chairman Merrill Conant defended the board's actions. "I believe that our board has done due diligence in regards to that process," he said.
One confirmed meeting when the board discussed the proposal was a January 21 special meeting consisting of a closed door "executive session" with a delegation from FHSU.
The FHSU delegation comprised President Ed Hammond, Dean of Education Robert Scott and attorney Todd Powell. Scott will be tasked with developing DCCC's upper division programs.
Also in attendance was Rep. Bud Estes (R-Dodge City), Bangerter and DCCC attorney Glenn Kerbs.
Kansas open government laws allow elected boards to hold closed sessions for a limited number of matters, including the discussion of non-elected personnel and individual students, discussions involving private trade secrets and discussions of ongoing litigation. Strategic planning is not specifically exempted from the open meetings law.
Upon mention of the closed session, Kerbs quickly interjected that it was exempted under attorney-client privilege.
Faculty members at the college learned of the proposal late Saturday night, and spread the information throughout the weekend. The meeting's agenda was modified to add the FHSU proposal during the Spring Break vacation when most professors and instructors were not working.
When seeking comment from the Board of Regents on the proposal Monday, a spokesperson for the board said she was not aware of any proposed plan that would convert DCCC into an FHSU campus. When a Daily Globe reporter started reading from the proposal, he was told the board had no comment at that time.
Likewise, a spokesperson at the governor's office said they had no knowledge of the plan. A response through email further insinuated no knowledge of the proposal. A follow-up email was never answered.
Several calls places to local legislators and the Kansas House and Senate leaders received no response.
The secretive process and short sell tactics have made DCCC faculty members deeply skeptical of the final product, said Scott Thompson, president of the Faculty Association, the faculty's bargaining unit.
"This could have been a win-win," Thompson said. "We haven't been involved in any of this stuff at all. What kind of contract do we have next year? We don't know."
Along with concerns over employment, including how the faculty's existing retirement and benefits plans will change once they become FHSU employees, Thompson said the faculty is "equally worried about the students."
If the plan comes to fruition, the Board of Regents will decide the tuition rate and fee schedule. If it is made similar to FHSU, DCCC students could go from paying roughly $85 per credit hour to nearly $150.
Also, the majority of scholarships provided by the college come directly from the local mill levy, he said, as DCCC does not have a substantial endowment. With more students on campus staying for longer periods of time, that money would be spread thinner.
Ultimately this could cause the school to lose sight of its mission as an inexpensive two-year school primarily serving the residents of Ford County, Thompson said.
Prior to the meeting, members of the faculty rushed to craft a statement outlining their concerns to be read before the vote.
That statement would not be heard before action was taken. In response to the number of people in attendance at the meeting, the board shifted the agenda to address public comments and the vote and moved the faculty report section until later in the meeting.
In the statement, the faculty questioned whether the taxpayer had been presented with sufficient evidence to make the change and whether the college will be able to continue to serve it's constituency in the community as a low-cost, open enrollment institution that serves a diverse student body.
It also questioned the ongoing commitment of the institution to face-to-face instruction and to remedial instruction for students.
The statement concludes: "The DCCC faculty certainly sees the potential advantage to the community and students in transitioning our community college to a four-year institution. However, we believe that the Board's proposal could only be strengthened by full discussion and consensus throughout the community before action is taken."