G.C.'s Perkins reflects on time on higher ed board

7/22/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Former Kansas Board of Regents member Janie Perkins of Garden City says her two terms on the board were a great experience that gave her an opportunity to do a lot of good work on behalf of higher education in the state.

"Working with individuals from different parts of the state who come from various backgrounds and professions, I think our board was able to make a lot of great decisions for our state and for higher education," she said. "I felt very fortunate to have served with such great individuals."

Perkins ended her second term at the end of June after serving eight years total on the board that oversees the state's six universities, 19 community colleges and six technical colleges. Members are appointed by the governor and are limited to two terms.

From start to finish, Perkins felt the goal of the board was to address higher education issues in a pro-education way. One of the issues she feels good about is the articulation agreements among the institutions that allow smooth transfers of core credits among the state's higher education institutions.

"Each year, they're adding more. I think that's one of the things students are always concerned with — what will transfer and what will not, what will this institution accept and what won't be accepted?" Perkins said.

One challenge for the board every year is setting the budgets for the regents' institutions. Perkins said board members do the best they can with what the Kansas Legislature gives in funding.

"We've been going through a few difficult years," she said.

The regents, in collaboration with the universities, prepare budget recommendations for the governor and the Legislature to approve each year. While Perkins believe it's a good process that is transparent, preparing the budget is a challenge each year.

This year's budget cuts by the Legislature essentially forced the regents to approve tuition hikes for state universities. Perkins said she was very much disappointed about the tuition increases.

"If the Legislature had funded us at what we requested, I'm sure there may have still been a little increase, but not to the extent that we voted on," she said.

The Legislature cut about $40 million from higher education over the next two years. That led the regents in June to approve tuition increases for the state's six universities ranging from 3.4 percent, the lowest, at Fort Hays State University to 8 percent, the highest, at Wichita State University.

Perkins said she struggled with the decision.

"Even though it was very difficult to approve it, there was really nothing else to do. I think each of the institutions were trying to be as frugal as they could," she said.

Perkins said one thing that made her feel better was that the institutions thought things through, got input from students and staff and tried to lessen the burden on students as much as possible.

"In that respect, I really think we tried to do the best we could to make sure students could continue their education, and that this wasn't something that was going to keep them from continuing on," Perkins said.

As Perkins exits the board, three new board members are coming onto the board. Gov. Sam Brownback in June appointed Shane Bangerter, Dodge City; Ann Brandau-Murguia, Kansas City; and Helen Van Etten, Topeka.

The appointment of Bangerter, a Dodge City attorney, caused some controversy when Senate Democratic leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka accused Brownback of packing the board with Republicans. State law only allows five members of the nine-member regents board to be from one party, and Bangerter had been a registered Republican until February when he changed to unaffiliated.

Perkins said she didn't read those stories because she is extremely busy with her job as supplemental programs coordinator for USD 457 in Garden City, but in general she feels board members keep politics out of their deliberations.

"One of the things I appreciated was the fact that we each came in with a different perspective. We all were very much pro-education," she said.

Perkins said the board members she served with spoke their minds when looking at issues and had an open dialog with an eye toward doing the best thing for each institution and making them better.

"Ultimately, the focus was on what could we do for the students. That's who's going to lead our state and fill jobs in the future and make progress for the state," she said.

Perkins, who served two terms on the Garden City Commission, including a year as mayor, said she has no future plans at the moment to seek public office.

"I'd like to concentrate on some community things here, and take some time to spend with family. I'm a new grandmother so I think I'd like to spend some time with my grandchildren," she said.

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