September 20, 2014

Possible changes for technical college system a ‘bad idea’

A possible change in funding and program control for Wisconsin’s technical colleges has been brought up in Madison, but the concept is getting no support in central Wisconsin.

A Legislative Council committee has suggested examining a change that would move the existing local board and local control system to a state board overseeing all 16 technical college districts. That is turning out to be a very unpopular concept with the technical colleges, area legislators, and businesses.

State Technical College System President Morna Foy is already telling legislators the present locally controlled system isn’t broken, and doesn’t need changes. “I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that the Legislature understands that that is a terrible idea. You know, a lot of folks may say, ‘Hey why? you’re the System President, wouldn’t that make you queen of the world?’ and the truth is what makes us great is the fact that we’re rooted in local communities and local economic needs.”

Foy says the local system that exists works hand in hand with each district’s businesses to meet their employment and training needs. “To have a state-funded system, I think you lose that sense of local control, the local community’s sense of ownership over their college, and therefore their desire and willingness to get involved and engaged, and to partner with the college gets lost.”

Northcentral Technical College President Lori Weyers says changing to a state system would make the colleges less able to work with local business and industry, and would slow down changes and additions to program lineups that are needed. She says NTC recently adjusted to double the number of welders they could train because of local demand, and that’s not the only example. “Another example would be we have the Diesel Mechanic program coming in the fall. This came out of a need that our businesses brought to us with 230 jobs regionally. We were able to react within 6 months to get that program going, and we are starting it in the fall. If we went to a state-controlled system, we would not have the ability to respond quickly to the local business needs and the employer’s needs for future jobs.”

Mid-State Technical College President Sue Budzac says their board of directors is appointed by county board supervisors from their service area. “The counties in our entire district are represented by either employers, employees, or members at large, and they are selected with that local plan of representation because they’re connected to the communities we serve, and to the employers and businesses in those communities.” Budzac sees no need to take every program or funding request to a state board when a working system is in place. “In this new system, it would happen because then the President could go to Madison and make their case for the new program. Right now, we have a vetted process for program approval, but it’s steeped in a local focus and local needs. We do have our system as a state board that also approves that process.”

Central Wisconsin legislators are also not in support of the change. Stevens Point Democratic state Representative Katrina Shankland says “I’m a little bit worried about what could happen in the future in the next legislative session if the local funding model goes to the state funding and the state gets to decide, because we know that in central Wisconsin, workforce needs are going to be different than in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or than in Superior, Wisconsin, and we need to have that autonomy, so I’m really supportive of the current funding model for technical colleges.”

Republican State Senator Jerry Petrowski does not believe the Legislative Council concept of changing technical college funding and program control to a state board is the right thing to do, and he’s pretty sure it won’t happen. “There is work going on with both the technical colleges and the local businesses to indeed, train people that will be employed at the businesses that are local, and that ability I think is really paramount in the success that the technical colleges have had, and I’m certain that, you know, that isn’t something that’s going to be taken away.”

Senator Petrowski believes the Legislative Council will not get this concept to go very far, which is fine with him. “You know, I think you look at the success that the technical colleges have had, and employment percentages, the benefits to local communities, and if it isn’t better, I don’t think we should be going there.”

Republican Representative Scott Krug says it’s still just an idea in a Legislative Council committee which could take until 2015 or 2016 to get a bill drafted. He says he’s willing to talk about the idea, but so far sees no reason to support it. Area businesses and industries are already speaking out against the proposed change. There are already organized letter writing campaigns to state lawmakers from business groups including the Wausau Area Chamber of Commerce and the Portage County Business Council.

WSAU