Possibility of FSCC-PSU merger questioned

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fort Scott resident and former Kansas State Senator Bob Marshall spoke during the public comments portion of the Fort Scott Community College Board of Trustees meeting Monday raising questions about the partnership with Pittsburg State University. Marshall also asked if there is a policy of not answering questions posed during the public comments section of the trustees meeting.

Partnership with PSU

Marshall said he didn't want "to beat a dead horse," but he read to them statements from an Aug. 22 Pittsburg State University's Collegio newspaper about the partnership that was started with FSCC by former President Clayton Tatro and PSU President Steve Scott.

Quoting from the story entitled "Fort Scott college leader pushed out," Marshall read "'Scott says the idea he was working on with Tatro is similar to a merger plan approved by Dodge City Community College on June 24 with Fort Hays State University.'"

Scott said in the Collegio interview that he was "hopeful our efforts would produce a new model for postsecondary governance in Kansas, one that could be replicated by other institutions." Scott said he anticipates future talks about closer ties with FSCC.

"'I'd posit that we are seeing the beginning of these conversations. Pittsburg State will remain open to examining other partnerships and how they might benefit the students of the region as well as Pittsburg State's students,'" Marshall quoted.

"My concern is we are going to be addressed with the same issue that we've been addressed with in the last 15 months," Marshall said.

Later in the meeting, Interim President Dick Hedges said he recently attended a meeting of the 19 community colleges in Kansas.

"I was sitting next to Florence Jean Hampton on the Dodge City (Community College) Board of Trustees for 24 year," Hedges said. "She said this has split the community like you wouldn't believe. The board doesn't want to address it...so it's been like a big elephant in the room. So you are on target there. That's causing them to look at 'what are we doing and why do we have to do it this way.' We'll try to be careful."

"The other possibility I'm talking about is Senator Ty Masterson," Marshall said. "Senator Masterson wants to get rid of about one-half of community colleges in the state of Kansas. He would like to get rid of FSCC. He'd like to see us become a part of Pittsburg State. I can't say that with all exactitude, but I know that's what he wants. I've had conversations with him....We need to continue to resist becoming Pittsburg State North."

"I don't recall (Scott) coming here and speaking to the board of trustees," Mark McCoy, trustee chairman, said. "If you are going to talk about the process of change I would think you would want to talk to the people who are elected to vote on things such as that. Conversation needs to go on. I don't know what we want to do. I've never spoken to him about it. I think it will be great to see how this plays out in Dodge City to see how well it works or does not work because that will tell us if there is any future in any collaboration."

"I'm not really interested in what they work out," Marshall said.

"I have an open mind. I am concerned that the state of Kansas would want to change the playing field," McCoy said.

"Right after you voted six to zero to discontinue the (partnership)talks, the first thing that happened, the president of the college (Tatro) went to Pittsburg and got with Senator Masterson and started Senate Bill 434," Marshall said. "A back door effort to make Fort Scott Community College and Pittsburg State partners....Fortunately, it stopped here at this board of trustees."

Public questions

In another matter, Marshall asked about whether there is a board policy to not allow questions from the public.

"I asked some questions at the last meeting I was able to attend," Marshall said. "The president of the board of trustees at that time said we are not allowing to ask questions. Where does it say that we as a public can not ask questions to the board of trustees? Does it say that somewhere? You are all elected representatives...I am a citizen. I feel I have a right to ask a question. If you say I don't have a right to question, then I'm going to call you at home and ask all the same question. So if you don't want me to call you at home everyday, go ahead and say I can't ask questions here. I think as a board of trustees that you would like to have these things be asked here and deal with them right here in front of everyone."

"Bob, I want to say I feel you can ask us questions anytime," Trustee John Bartelsmeyer said.

"I kind of thought that is what the board meeting is for, to all hear the same question," Marshall said.

"I don't know the answer about answering questions, so we are going to look that up," McCoy said. "Personally, as a board meeting of any group it is not a free flowing exchange of questions. The public has asked the board to get some clarification on the position of the board to take questions and comments from the public. Typically, the board has not gotten back to that individual either verbally or in writing in the appropriate amount of time. As the current board chairman I think it is appropriate and right that the college get back with that person. If we don't know the answer to something, we look it up and then get back to that person."

"Basically, in my experience, (the public comments part of the monthly meeting) it's a listening time. If not, you can get caught into 'he said, she said,'" Hedges later told the Tribune.

Jason Hogue, director of public relations at FSCC, spoke with the Tribune on Thursday after communicating with Hedges about whether this is the most current policy on the matter.

"This policy was developed by the board in 2011. The current board may make changes. We do not make people come at noon to tell us if they want to comment. Hedges said we have a policy in place. That policy has gone only so far as common courtesy hasn't conflicted," Hogue paraphrased Hedges response.