Leaders oppose merger

Published 1:00 am Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee is scheduled to consider a report on merging community colleges when it meets in Raleigh today. The discussion could affect the future of Beaufort County Community College. (WDN Photo/Sara Cowell)

Loss of local control at heart of campaign against merger

Daily News Staff

Local leaders – including Beaufort County’s representative to the General Assembly – oppose the possible merger of Beaufort County Community College and hope a legislative committee will reject the idea when it meets today.

They take exception to a study which recommends the merger of BCCC with another community college within 30 miles of its campus.

But they also say that the study’s proposal to improve the buying power of the state’s community colleges is worth considering.

“I think we need to start where the big savings are before we start worrying about the community colleges,” said Rep. Bill Cook, a Beaufort County Republican who represents the county in the N.C. House of Representatives.

Cook said he received the first two years of his college education at a community college.

He said that instead of concentrating their efforts on savings in the community college system, the committee should look instead at the state’s public four-year colleges and universities where administrative costs per student are double those of the community colleges.

“I think it’s real unfortunate that this has been directed at community colleges,” Cook said in a recent interview with the Daily News. “If you look at the university system, good Lord, they’re spending at least twice (more) per student than a community college.”

The Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee is scheduled to discuss the report, “Purchasing Consortiums and Merging Community Colleges Could Save $26.2 Million Over Seven Years,” when it meets today in Raleigh, according to a committee agenda.

BCCC President David McLawhorn is one of several community college presidents who plan to attend the meeting.

“It has to do with local control,” McLawhorn said in an interview Tuesday. “When you lose local control, you lose input.”

If BCCC is forced to merge with a neighboring community college, the state may save money, “but the local control will be lost,” he said.

BCCC is one of 22 small community colleges across the state identified for possible merger with another community college in the report presented June 28 to legislators.

It estimates that by merging smaller community colleges and establishing a system of statewide purchases, the state could reap an estimated $26.2 million in savings over seven years – including $8.6 million in savings by completing 15 community college mergers by 2018.

It suggests a merger of BCCC with community colleges in Martin and Pitt counties and, alternatively, a merger of Beaufort and Martin community colleges with colleges in Edgecombe and Pitt counties.

The report also recommends the merger of Pamlico Community College with community colleges in Craven and Carteret counties.

It touts significant savings in administrative costs by combining community colleges with fewer than 3,000 full-time equivalent students, or FTEs, with another community college less than 30 miles away.

The report also predicts significant savings if community colleges join together to buy equipment and supplies through an organized group. Community college leaders generally support that proposal.

Cook is among those who likes the proposal for a purchasing consortium but told the Daily News that he has concerns about removing control over their purchases from local colleges.

The Beaufort County Board of Education, which appoints a member of BCCC’s governing board of trustees, has been asked to join the fight opposing the merger plans.

On Monday, BCCC leaders were asked to support a resolution opposing the merger.

“(M)erging Beaufort County Community College with another community college would diminish the local support of and loyalty to the College and its Foundation; and … merging Beaufort County Community College with another community would decimate the ability of the citizens of Beaufort County to operate the College in a way that meets the needs of the community,” the resolution reads.

The school board is scheduled to discuss the resolution when it meets next week.

BCCC leaders also plan to ask the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners to support the same resolution.

County Commissioner Al Klemm, who is also a member of Beaufort County Economic Development Commission’s board, agrees with other local leaders that the merger plan is flawed.

“I think the community has an excellent relationship with the community college, and I don’t want to see it changed in any form,” Klemm said. “I see no reason to change something that’s working very well.”

Like Klemm, Commissioner Robert Cayton, who is also a member of the BCCC Board of Trustees, disagrees with the report’s conclusions.

Merging the state’s smaller community colleges would do nothing to save money or strengthen the community college system, he said.

“And thirdly, it does nothing to enhance the educational opportunities of the citizens of this county,” he said.