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President Steve Scott speaks at the Town Hall Legislative Update on Friday, Feb. 15. The event was opened addressing what goes through cancelling school due to weather. Roberto Bustamante

Legislative update focuses on higher education

PSU President Steve Scott and chief strategy officer Shawn Naccarato led the first 2019 town hall legislative update for Pitt State staff and faculty last week. The pair presented information on the current legislative session and its affects on the university and community. 

Scott started the legislative update by discussing how the university decides whether or not to cancel school on inclement weather days, such as the day of the update, Friday, Feb. 15, as it was sleeting. Naccarato followed by diving into the bulk of the presentation, leading with discussion of funding cuts. Through the update’s entirety, Scott showed that he kept Pittsburg State in mind with all legislative issues. 

“Well, I think it’s too early in the session to really know where this is all going because right now they’re talking about some things on the revenue side and also K-12 funding, and all of those pieces fall into place as we get … toward the end of the session to really know exactly,” Scott said. “So we’re really more in a monetary, advocacy, education mode as we talk to people in Topeka—I’ve been spending quite a bit of time up there and I’ll be up there again next week.” 

Issues later discussed included restoration of cuts, KPERS, and possible affects of taxes. Scott said the reason for holding these legislative updates is to keep the university informed and educated. 

“I think our hope is that, and purpose of these sessions that we do, is that we really want people to be informed, and they’re all citizens, they’re voters, and so we hope they’ll be engaged,” he said. “…What we would argue for is that they be informed and that they would understand what the issues are, how they would impact Pittsburg State University, and they would participate. …” 

Naccarato said they try to hold these updates at least three times per legislative session to share information with the community about how the session affects higher education—specifically Pitt State—and Pittsburg as a whole.  

“… It’s part of our broader effort to ensure that we’re helping to foster effective advocacy on behalf of Pittsburg State higher education as well as all of Southeast Kansas, and one of the cornerstones of that is information,” Naccarato said. “So if you’re going to be a strong advocate, you need to be an informed advocate, and what we’re trying to do is inform. …” 

Regarding higher education, Scott said allocations took most of his attention within the legislative session. 

“Probably the most important issue for us, of course, would be the allocation for Pittsburg State University,” Scott said. “The governor has put $9 million in her budget for the entire higher education system and that would amount to less than $400 thousand increase for Pittsburg State. That concerns us, just given the cost that we have and the increasing costs of health insurance premiums that you heard earlier today. So that allocations directly impact campus. And secondly, the governor has put into play a two-and-a-half percent pay increase for state employees … it’s a very good place to be, at least at the start of the session. … We’ll be advocating very hard for that, and I hope people will pay attention to that. And then finally, you heard us talk about the pension plan, KPERS is what it’s called, and that’s really important to about a third of our employees who are in that system and … that’s something I know those individuals will want to watch very closely and we’ll be watching it, too.” 

Scott has visited Topeka numerous times and will continue to do so to meet with committee leaders, the house speaker, and more. Naccarato compared this year’s session to previous years, in that this year things may look up.  

“… We’ve had a number of years of challenges when it comes to revenue through the state, and that automatically puts pressure on higher education and on the budget,” Naccarato said. “And I think that we’re hopeful that in the budget that’s being discussed right now, and there’s still a lot of time to go. … We’re hoping that we’re starting to see folks in Topeka start to see that we need investment in higher ed. if we’re going to keep up. … More than anything, I will say that the concern that we have is the notion of the amount of cost that has been shifted over to students because of a failure of the state to keep up with pressures on those costs. So what we’ve been advocating for is, first and foremost, we want to ensure that there’s access at this institution, access to higher education … it has to be something that we fund, that we invest in, so I hope that we are starting to have those conversations in a more robust way. …” 

Brad Stefanoni, assistant director of purchasing, was one of the many university employees present at the legislative update. 

“Well, I think one of the things I got, and I hope everybody else did, too, is that there seems to be a shift in I guess momentum at the state level with the shift in leadership the governor’s office, in regards to maybe putting some resources in place that were not in place before—for a lot of things, not just education, but specifically for us hopefully some momentum in the right direction in terms of not only restoring some of the funding that has been lost but also putting some new funding in place so some additional programs and just initiative can be developed,” Stefanoni said. 

Stefanoni said he believes two of the larger issues university faculty and staff focus on is the balance of increasing healthcare costs as well as salaries and benefits.  

“I think a lot of employees felt a lack of security … in their job overall, but just some uncertainty there,” Stefanoni said. “And I think that’s one of those things going back to that momentum, if you will, that is starting to … kind of turn and go in a different direction. At least it seems to me as an employee that there’s more support at the higher levels of the state, both in the governor’s office and with the legislature and obviously within the university and the administration—that’s always been there, but there’s, I sense, an even heightened level of that also.” 

Stefanoni said he noticed that discussion has seemed more “substantial” in this year’s legislative session than in past years. He also mentioned that he is “appreciative” of the legislative updates provided by university administration. 

Scott said Pittsburg State’s “testimony” and telling the university’s “story” is important in receiving advocacy from local legislatures. Overall, Scott feels good going into the current legislative session, which he projected at the update. 

“I think I’m hopeful,” Scott said. “As I said, I felt like we had a good initial testimony and response. My colleagues were testified today; we’ve had word already that they felt really good about the response and the receptiveness of the hearing committee members … I love to tell our story, I mean we have a great story, and so I’m excited about going and talking about the things we’re accomplishing and the way we’re serving our students and the region. So I always start the session hopeful, but probably this year just a little more hopeful than usual.” 

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