Committee cuts deeper into WNC budget |

Committee cuts deeper into WNC budget

Geoff Dornan
Cathleen Allison/R-C file
Cathleen Allison | Nevada Photo Source

Western Nevada and Great Basin college, whose presidents said were left on the brink of disaster by the governor’s recommended budgets, were cut even more Wednesday by a budget subcommittee.

“It’s worse than the governor’s recommended,” said Carol Lucey, WNC president

The plan proposed by Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, and passed by the subcommittee Wednesday imposes a 15 percent cut during both years of the upcoming biennium.

The interim committee that studied higher education funding called for holding those two colleges, the state’s smallest and most rural, harmless the coming budget cycle. Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan fell far short of that, imposing a 10 percent further reduction next year and 15 percent less than the current budget the second year of the biennium.

The governor’s recommended budgets would have cut Western Nevada from $15 million in 2013 to $13.5 million in 2014 and $13.3 million in 2015. Great Basin would have been cut from $14 million this fiscal year to $12.5 million next year and $12.3 million in 2015.

System Chancellor Dan Klaich said his best estimate was that Horne’s motion would take another $700,000 out of Great Basin’s funding and $750,000 from Western Nevada College.

Those are on top of severe cuts to both rural schools that have taken over a third of the state funding they received in 2009, said Regent Ron Knecht who represents western Nevada.

Mark Curtis, new as president at Great Basin headquartered in Elko, said the cuts will heavily impact his school.

“When I arrived here, I thought governor’s recommended was the worst case scenario,” he said. “Now it’s worse.”

Lucey and Curtis both pointed out that, with the state setting high priorities on job creation and education, it’s shortsighted to cut the schools that provide job skills training for everything from welders and machinists to nurses.

“It’s almost inconceivable,” Lucey said.

But late in the day Wednesday, Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, who represents the area served by Great Basin, said he was working with Horne to see how much can be added to those two small colleges. He said his goal is the hold harmless level — meaning no further reductions — recommended by the higher education funding study conducted over the past 18 months.

“We’ll see,” he said, adding he is hopeful of getting at least some help after meeting with Horne.

There also is a proposed budget amendment from the governor’s office that would add an additional $2 million to funding for WNC and GBC. Lawmakers held off any decision on that funding until Saturday.

Overall, the proposed system-wide budget closing agreed to by the subcommittee changes very little. Total system funding is recommended at $972.5 million in General Fund money for the coming two years.

The big change from two years ago is the newly developed funding formula based on credit hours completed rather than just totaling up how many credits students enroll in.

Using that methodology, the plan will still shift about $13.2 million from northern schools — primarily University of Nevada, Reno — to the south. Southern lawmakers have long complained the old formulas favored the north over the south. Klaich said that number won’t change very much.

A chunk of that shift, however, hurts not only Western Nevada and Great Basin but the other non-Clark County college — Truckee Meadows Community College — which will lose more than a million dollars from its current funding level.

The overall changes to system budgets, however, must be recalculated by staff because lawmakers decided to break with the governor on how to calculate “F” grades in the funding formula. The governor had recommended not funding classwork resulting in “F” grades for students who didn’t show up and even try but funding the campuses for credit hours when students do show up and do the work but fail the class anyway. The argument is those students take up resources and faculty time and so should be counted while those who don’t even show up and try aren’t a drain on the system.

Lawmakers decided instead not to count any “F” grades in setting funding.

The decisions were made by a subcommittee of Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance. The full committees meet Saturday morning to make their final decisions.