Community college trustees and administrators argued unsuccessfully against the idea of merging small schools with larger ones, with a legislative committee Wednesday pushing forward consideration of an idea its staff says will save about $5 million a year.
Community college trustees said the mergers would hurt rural schools and limit residents' chances at higher education.
"You make education in North Carolina less affordable, less accessible, and you defeat the purpose" of the community college mission, said Charlotte Griffin, chairwoman of the Martin Community College board of trustees.
The report suggests 15 mergers, where schools with fewer than 3,000 full-time students would join with larger schools. The state has 26 community colleges with fewer than 3,000 students, according to the report.
Opponents said small campuses would lose programs; local boards of county commissioners, which help pay for community colleges, would withdraw their support; and schools would lose their identities.
Legislative staff said savings would come from combining "back office" functions, such as having a president, payroll office and accounting office serve more than one school.
Sen. Debbie Clary, a Cherryville Republican and a chairwoman of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, said detractors were overreacting.
"No one has talked about changing the identity of a community college," she said. "I think there's been a lot of emotion generated and a lot of false rhetoric."
But the legislative report talks about three types of merger that go from a "multicampus" college - where a large and small school would merge and the smaller school would become a satellite campus - to a centralized system that would have the central office perform all administrative jobs for the 58 schools.
Community College System President R. Scott Ralls said the cost of merging one-quarter of the campuses would be greater than the savings and would not count "the intangible nature of what a college means in a small county that is struggling."
The committee sent the report to an education oversight committee for further consideration.
Hagan tells what she heard
Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who has been trying to burnish her credential as a fiscal moderate, has just wrapped up a statewide budget listening tour.
Now she plans to convene a panel discussion at UNC's Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise on "The Debt Crisis & Saving Our Fiscal Future" at 10 a.m. July 25.
Over the last couple of weeks, Hagan has held what she calls "listening sessions" in Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte and Wilmington.
What she heard, Hagan told reporters in a teleconference Wednesday, was that people wanted less partisan posturing and more efforts to work together.
"The difference between what you see in Washington, D.C., and I hear in North Carolina is incredible," Hagan said. "In Washington, you see politicians putting politics and ideology ahead of what is best for the American people.
"In North Carolina, the consensus is that Democrats and Republicans have to work together to craft a responsible plan to reduce the deficit," she said.
Marshall gets Moldovan degree
Secretary of State Elaine Marshall was awarded an honorary doctoral degree while she was in Moldova last month.
Marshall visited Moldova June 22-26 as part of her long-term effort to improve the Carolina-Moldova Bilateral Partnership. She is secretary of state, after all.
During her visit, she met with Acting President Marian Lupu and Prime Minister Vlad Filat, presided over a bilateral committee meeting and called on ministers of economy, education and health, and deputy ministers of agriculture and foreign affairs.
To save you a Google search, Moldova is an Eastern European country between Romania and Ukraine.
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