LINCOLN — An official peace accord was proclaimed Tuesday in the often bitter fight over state aid among the state’s six community colleges.
A key provision is that Omaha’s Metro Community College will drop its lawsuit against the state’s five other technical schools.
State Sen. Greg Adams, one of three state senators who brokered the deal, said Tuesday he was “proud” that the six schools have agreed to work together on a new state aid formula and get on with the job of educating students.
“I think these schools realized they were part of the community college system and not individual campuses,” Adams said. “I’m proud that these schools are prepared to return to the table.”
An usual weekend “summit” called by the senators Feb. 28 at Nebraska City’s Lied Lodge was credited for ending the feud, which had simmered for almost two years over how about $90 million in annual state aid is distributed.
Metro officials complained that last-minute legislative changes in some state-aid formula revisions had unfairly reduced its share of state aid by $11 million, forcing it to raise property taxes this year.
Tensions escalated after the five other community colleges kicked Metro out of the Nebraska Community College Association, which acts, in some respects, as a “board of regents” for the state’s technical schools.
The heat rose even higher when Metro, the state’s largest community college, sued the other five last year.
Key points in the agreement, described as “tentative” because the schools’ governing boards have not yet officially approved it:
• Metro will drop its lawsuit.
• Metro will receive $1.8 million from the other five schools for the 2010-11 school year, in lieu of changing the state aid formula this year.
• The six schools agreed to reach a consensus, within a week, on a temporary state aid distribution for 2010-11.
• All six colleges agreed to work together on a mutually acceptable permanent formula for distributing state aid. That formula will be debated during the 2011 legislative session.
• The six schools will jointly propose a new “structure” for the state college association, which will dissolve June 20, 2011.
The college presidents and one board member from each of the six attended the summit. Adams, Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood and Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford acted as mediators.
Adams said allowing the college representatives to “vent” was important.
In the end, what seemed like irreconcilable differences were worked out, he said.
“We had six college presidents and six board members who wanted a resolution,” Adams said. “It’s like so many things: If you can get everyone at the table and get everyone to talk, you can make headway.”
Jack Huck, president of Southeast Community College, based in Lincoln, called it the most effective job of mediating he’d ever been involved in.
“They impressed the importance of not having dysfunction within the community college system at this point in history,” Huck said. During recessions, enrollment traditionally swells at community colleges with people seeking new job skills.
Now it’s up to the community colleges to “work together” and find long-term solutions, said Jim Grotrian, executive vice president at Metro.
He added that if revamping the community college association is successful, that will provide the “gatekeeper” over the state aid process that had been suggested by an interim study last year.