Regents want to get on Brownback’s side in budget talks

Last year, the Kansas Board of Regents approved a plan called the Kansas Commitment that would have required $50 million in additional funding for public higher education.

But Gov. Sam Brownback rejected that proposal, saying that the increase wasn't possible given what at the time was a projected $500 million state budget shortfall.

This time, regents say, they want to get on Brownback's side in upcoming budget talks.

Fred Logan Jr. of Leawood, who was recently appointed to the regents by Brownback, said Tuesday it would serve the board well to be on the same page as the governor.

"I prefer a very realistic approach that gets us aligned with the executive. I would say regardless of who the governor is, that is always the smart move," Logan said. "I don't care if it's on the left or the right," he said.

He got general agreement from most of the other regents, who noted that the governor's budget proposal is frequently given a lot of consideration in the Legislature.

During a retreat at Pittsburg State University, the board discussed its approach in upcoming budget talks with Brownback's office and the Legislature, which starts the 2012 session in January.

Regents frequently face the dilemma of requesting funds for what they believe is needed to advance higher education in Kansas and what they hope they can get from political leaders.

Leading up to the last legislative session, higher education had been cut $100 million because of the state's revenue problems during the recession. The regents had sought to make up some of those cuts through the Kansas Commitment.

But Brownback rejected the idea. He did, however, steer clear of deep cuts to higher education and signed into law an initiative to produce more engineering graduates.

The regents will meet with Brownback on Wednesday.

Several board members and university leaders said they hoped to be able to make the case with Brownback that the schools need some additional funding for pay raises for faculty who have not seen a general increase in several years.

"We have lost ground with faculty (pay) in the last three years," said Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

She said faculty salaries at KU are below that of peer universities, and KU is starting to lose some of its best professors to other schools that provide better offers. She said when KU fails to retain a star researcher it also loses research grants that person brings in, plus the investments that KU made.

Gray-Little said even when KU is able to increase a salary to retain a top-notch instructor that creates tension down the line to increase other salaries.

Regent Chairman Ed McKechnie of Arcadia said he hoped to be able to put together a budget proposal that would provide for a merit increase for faculty.

Pittsburg State President Steve Scott said classified employees also need a raise. "The classified are not doing well. We've got some real morale issues growing," he said.

By Scott Rothschild

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