A letter to the taxpayers of Butler County

Butler County taxpayers,

To all the people of Butler County and our service area, thank you for your support of Butler Community College and the college’s Board of Trustees. The College trustees and administrators have appreciated the opportunity to listen to concerns and ideas regarding personal property tax over the last couple of weeks. Let me assure you, we are listening.
During the May meeting between the county commissioners and the board of trustees it was noted that the college’s mill levy had been a top priority of the commissioners for many years. It is important to note that this was the first time this concern has actually been brought to the Trustees’ and college’s attention. I am not sure why that is, but we are now listening and will seek positive and appropriate approaches for resolution.
Moving forward, I am not ready to say what we (Butler Board of Trustees) will do, but I know what we will not do. We will not rush into a major decision like reducing Butler Community College’s mill levy by 5 mills immediately, not without discussion, research, and study of the effects on the college as a whole and all those involved. Making a rash decision or a last minute action is not what the Board of Trustees would consider responsible on our part.
   We will not let a comment like "you need to learn how to run a business," or be approached or pointed at by a legislator, or told exactly what we must do, force us into making a rash decision. We will not let manipulated reporting of numbers by certain groups discourage us from the real true meaning behind the facts, and we will not let personal insults effect the duty we have to the whole Butler Community College community. Most importantly, we will not give up on fixing funding at the state level because there-in lies much of the needed solution.  
To better understand the dilemma community colleges in Kansas are in, maybe a bit of history will help. Prior to the early 2000’s, counties paid a fee for their students to attend an out-of-county community college, and the state matched that fee. With the passage of SB 345 in 1999, that out-district/county funding was to be phased out over a four-year time frame, with the funding, instead, to be rolled into the state funding that was disbursed to community colleges. The annual phase-out at 25 percent per year lasted only two of the four years and then was halted due to state funding constraints. Since that time, the community and technical colleges have been underfunded despite the work they do and the student enrollments they realize.  
Are you aware that four-year public institutions in Kansas receive approximately 80 percent of the higher education budget while two-year community and technical colleges receive 20 percent of the budget, yet the two-year sector enrolls on average 13,000 students more each year than the four-year institutions? The community and technical colleges in Kansas are producing the needed workforce for Kansas, as well as preparing students to transfer on for bachelor’s degrees. Wouldn’t it make sense for additional funding to come to the two-year sector based on the work that is done at the community and technical colleges?
As I stated earlier, I am still not sure about everything the Board of Trustees will agree to do, but I do know a few things going into the near future. In 2021, the Butler mill levy will be reduced two mills to 18.063. Tuition and fees for out of district/county students will be seriously studied with the idea of realizing some change in the differential. The Board of Trustees asked the Butler administrators to study these differentials related to enrollment, revenue, accessibility, and affordability impacts even prior to Rep. Williams’ “fair funding initiative.” We will be committed to working with those legislators who are willing to work hard to find new and innovative ways to fund the Kansas public higher education two-year sector at adequate levels. Butler's mill levy history since 1999, shows that when there is appropriate state funding, the college's mill levy is lower. If appropriate funding were available, this same opportunity could be available for the benefit of Butler County taxpayers.
I believe that Butler Community College has, in good faith, kept the Butler mill levy reasonable and will continue to do so. When compared to other major county rates, Butler’s mill levy is the lowest. When compared to other community colleges in Kansas, Butler’s mill levy is the third lowest, with Johnson County at 9.47 and Colby County at 46.76. As a board and as taxpayers ourselves, we understand the burden on the taxpayer, so we will continue to pay attention to and realize this burden when making future budget decisions and will continue to look for ways to help all public entities. As trustees, we have the responsibility of being accountable to our communities. This involves being aware of a wide variety of public and community needs and integrating them into the interest of the whole. The foremost obligation of every trustee is to represent the general interest of the College's service area.
I do not know anyone who likes paying taxes. However, I do know many people who favor Butler Community College and the outstanding work we do. Research shows that four out of five Americans view community colleges as worth the cost.
To our supporters, we ask that you stand up and be heard. We ask that those voices who truly support education because they value the life-changing opportunities it provides our fellow brothers, sisters and neighbors to speak out and share loudly the value Butler Community College has on this area and on lives. Whether from an economic impact or from the intrinsic value of societal advancement and growth, voices for Butler and for the power of the two-year college sector in Kansas need to let Rep. Williams and those in Topeka know her views are detrimental. There is a movement afoot to harm the educational opportunities for students of all ages in south central Kansas and I want those in Kansas to know that the Butler Community College Board of Trustees and its leadership are standing on the frontlines to lead the cause against such a movement, and we are prepared to do the real work for real solutions.   
I know the Board of Trustees will continue to keep our most important product, our students, at the forefront when making decisions. We must never lose sight of this. Yes, running a college is like a business, but when your product is a human being there is not always a simple number or a single price tag that can be put on some of the decisions that must be made. We are in the business of educating each individual student where they are in their lives when they come to us. Our responsibility is to change lives and we will continue to do that to the benefit of not only south central Kansas but the entire state.
Again, thank you to our supporters. Thank you for understanding the visible and invisible values that education has on all those willing to learn.

Eileen M. Dreiling, Chairperson
Board of Trustees
Butler Community College