Butler Community College responds to Rep. Kristey Williams recent remarks

A recent resolution brought to the Butler County Commissioners by Kansas 77th District Rep. Kristey Williams is encouraging Butler Community College Trustees to seek ways to cut its mill levy that could result in a $10.1 million loss in operating revenues.

As the largest employer in Butler County, these cuts would be felt region wide; not just within Butler County. In the May 5 article of the Butler County Times Gazette, William’s proposes Butler’s mill levy be decreased from 20.063 to 5.44.

“The concerns which have been shared are important for us to review,” said Kim Krull, Ph.D., Butler Community College President. “We understand the difference in taxes between Butler County and Sedgwick County are of concern when a large percentage of our students come from outside Butler County. Even before Williams began promoting a resolution to encourage a reduction in the college’s mill levy, Butler trustees were discussing the in-district versus out-of-district tuition differential for Butler County students.”

In 2016, the Butler Community College Board of Trustees approved a Capital Outlay mill levy which increased the taxes levied by the college by 2 mills for a period of five years. The mill levy therefore increased from 18.063 to 20.063.

The increase was initiated to support needed updates and major enhancements in Butler’s digital arena. Digital Technology is being enhanced to improve teaching and learning environments, and campus safety and security with electronic signage, electronic access controls on buildings as well as campus lighting. In addition, student information, new and old, will be better protected in the new age of technological hacking and information theft. With ever-changing technological improvements, the project had to happen succinctly. To spread the project beyond five years would have been financially imprudent and more costly in the long term had it been “piecemealed.” These enhancements serve not only current students and staff but any visitors to Butler campuses including Butler vendors, and former students and staff.

This mill levy increase is not permanent. At the end of the five-year timeframe, the 2 mill increase sunsets, returning the levied taxes to 18.063 mills, the same level it has been since 2009. Butler Community College’s mill levy did not increase 10 mills as was noted in the information attributed to Williams in the May 5 Gazette article. From 2009 to 2016, Butler Community College’s mill levy has remained at just over 18 mills. Butler is currently nearing the end of its second year of this five-year capital project. For the taxpayer, the impact of the 2 mill increase equates to an extra $23 for every 100,000 dollars in home value per year.

A recent study for Butler by EMSI, a global labor market analytics company, shows that the total economic impact of Butler Community College on south central Kansas is $398.5 million annually. For an institution with approximately a $50 million budget, the return is multiplied nearly eight times. EMSI also reported that out-of-district students attending Butler generate $9.5 million annually in spending back in to the economy which equates to $6 million in new spending in the form of rent, fast food, gasoline, entertainment and groceries.

Williams voiced the concern that Butler County taxpayers are supporting a majority of college students who are not Butler County citizens. Of the 19 community colleges in Kansas, Butler County taxpayers pay the third lowest rate per in-county credit hour. For the last complete fiscal year, Butler County taxpayers contributed $382 per in-county credit hour. For all nineteen Kansas Community Colleges the local tax support ranged from $346 to $1,579 with an average $646 and a median of $539.

Every community college in Kansas receives tax dollars from their home county while enrolling students from outside the home county.

“It is true more than 80% of our students come from outside Butler County,” said Krull. “But the enrollments of those students, allow our college to offer a comprehensive scope of programs, embed innovative and strategic priorities and contribute to the economic strength of southcentral Kansas. Each and every student enrollment, whether they are from Butler County, counties across Kansas, out-of-state, or international, positively impacts our ability to deliver our mission,” Krull said.

The tuition and fees paid by every student generate needed revenues for operations. Colleges with lower enrollments often have higher mill levies. Size, in regard to both the number of students served and the number of credit hours generated, translates into greater resources, not only for budgets, but also in stronger programs and instruction that benefit all students. In addition, those enrollments translate into stronger fine arts performances, extra-curricular activities, student organizations and sports teams.

“Butler would suffer devastating cuts if the proposed resolution to lower the college mill levy from 20.063 to 5.44 were implemented,” Krull said.

These cuts to revenue cannot be regained on the backs of students through increased tuition and fees as has been proposed. Students would simply attend another college in the area that has lower tuition. A large percentage of Butler students have significant financial need. More than $28.5 million in federal funding came to Butler in 2016-17 in the form of student loans, Pell Grants, work study support, and Perkins funding to support students. Butler receives more federal monies for its students than any other community college in Kansas.

“An example of how deep the cuts would have to go, would be equivalent to cutting all 162 fulltime faculty positions and another 28 staff positions; or 224 of the 286 administrative, institutional and operational staff positions across the college,” Krull said.

The American Association of Community College’s (AACC) explains the mission of community colleges is to remain centers of educational opportunity for all who desire to learn regardless of wealth, heritage or previous academic experience. Butler celebrated the vision for its founding last year with its 90th anniversary. Butler County citizens felt passionately enough then about the mission to create an accessible and affordable educational institution that serves a five-county service area as designated by the Kansas Board of Regents and is the second largest credit hour generator among the 19 community colleges in Kansas.

“While our mission is to serve all who desire to learn,” said Lori Winningham, vice president of academics, “our impact when we perform this mission well is to create a powerful economic engine for our county and our supporting tax base.

“They spend their money in Butler County and we all benefit,” Winningham said. “The true driver in our mission for Butler Community College is student success. It always has been and it always will be. The lives that are changed for the better by the education and care we provide benefit, not only the community in which they attend college, but also our extended communities and all of Kansas.”

President Krull adds, “The two-year higher education sector in Kansas enrolls more students annually than the four-year Regents institutions yet only receive approximately 20% of the higher education funding allotted by the legislature. And still, we remain the most affordable option. A student who attends Butler saves $7,000 on average per year compared to the average cost of attendance at a four-year Kansas institution.”

Every community college in Kansas could benefit, as would their taxpayers, if the local conversation about Butler Community College were expanded to a statewide conversation driven by Williams and her colleagues to get “out-district” tuition payments reinstated. Until the early 2000s, if a student came to a Kansas community college from outside that community college home county, that county was billed $24 per student per credit hour and the state was billed $24 per student per credit hour. The rate was set by the legislature. In 1999, the Kansas Legislature passed the 1999 Higher Education Coordination Act which provided for a four-year phase out of out-district tuition by reducing the $24 per credit hour rate by 25% annually. Only the first two years of this plan were implemented before out district tuition was completely eliminated by the legislature.

The conversation is not and should not be about one county and what they pay for one community college. We need legislative leaders to consider a funding model that serves all Kansans and more proportionately balances the cost.