The Warren County school district and the Bowling Green school system will go before a hearing officer Thursday in hopes of resolving an ongoing dispute. The two sides are at odds over a non-resident student agreement.
Non-resident students are county students allowed to attend city schools where state funding travels with the students. The county wants to limit the number of transfers to just siblings of current students. The city wants the 750 non-resident students, as currently permitted, plus more if county student enrollment grows.
The year-long dispute has included multiple proposals from each side, though no agreement. Bowling Green Superintendent Joe Tinius says not having a contract is making it hard to plan for next school year.
"More so than our planning, it's the impact on parents of not knowing if their child, those who have applied, will be able to attend Bowling Green schools," says Tinius.
Warren County Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton is confident the two sides can reach a deal.
"Even though under current law, there is no obligation on behalf of Warren County Public Schools to enter into an agreement, our board has been steadfast from the very beginning that they wish to do so," explains Clayton.
The hearing, scheduled for Thursday and Friday, is open to the public and takes place at the Warren County Justice Center starting at 8:30 a.m.
The hearing officer is Lexington attorney Mike Wilson, who will make a recommendation to Kentucky’s education commissioner.
Kentucky's public colleges and universities can raise tuition by eight percent over the next two years.
The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education unanimously passed the two-year tuition and mandatory fee ceiling during a meeting Tuesday in Murray. The potential increase allows universities to offset dwindling state funding. The first-year increase is limited to five percent.
In an email to faculty and staff, WKU President Gary Ransdell said he will recommend to the Board of Regents a tuition increase of 4.8 percent for in-state residential students for the fall 2014 semester.
"This, along with 50 percent state support for our KERS retirement contribution increase and with reallocations among the various divisions of the University, will allow us to balance our budget for next year," wrote Ransdell.
The budget also funds a one percent cost of living adjustment for employees and more than $4 million in additional funding for student financial assistance.
CPE President Bob King says Governor Steve Beshear wanted only a four percent increase over one year instead of the unusual two year-plan. CPE chair Pam Miller says the council wanted to give universities as much flexibility as “politically possible.”
It’s estimated that state institutions will generate an additional $66 million dollars in revenues over the 2014-15 school year thanks to the tuition hike, while institutionally-funded student aid will increase $26 million dollars.
Cathy Roemer-Garrison is always looking out for innovative ways to teach. She’s an English as a Second Language instructor at Moss Middle School in Warren County.
"I came across on the Internet something about children reading to shelter animals, and that the research showed it was successful at improving reading fluency and building self-esteem, which is a perfect fit for my ELL kids," explained Roemer-Garrison.
She took the idea to Principal David Nole, who admits he was skeptical at first.
"I thought, 'How's that going to improve what we're doing?' The more I listened the more I realized she was going about the heart of the reader, and that's just developing the love to read," Nole said.
And so it began. An initiative called Paw Pals: Literacy with Love. Every Wednesday, Roemer-Garrison visits the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society with a group of ELL students, or English Language Learners. Most are from war-torn countries, but at the shelter, those memories are overcome with smiles and laughter.
On this visit, a shelter employee brings out eight-week-old long-haired Chihuahuas.
Seventh graders Graciella Ventura of El Salvador, and Soe Meh and Bway Baw both of Thailand, sit in a circle, each holding a puppy and a book. Storytime is about to begin. Ventura has a wide grin as one of the puppies licks her face.
WKU is part of a collaborative effort to increase the number of minority students pursuing degrees in the so-called “STEM” fields.
WKU and eight other higher education institutions in the commonwealth and West Virginia have been awarded a five-year, $ 2.5 million National Science Foundation grant that will primarily focus on undergraduates seeking diplomas in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
WKU’s Associate Vice President for Retention and Student Services, Joelle Davis Carter, says she hopes some of the school’s grant money will be used to create a “summer bridge” program.
“This would be an opportunity for prospective college students to come to campus a little earlier, maybe five weeks earlier, stay on campus, and participate in reiterations of math and science,” she told WKU Public Radio.
Last month, Indiana became the first state in the nation to formally repeal the controversial Common Core education standards that were adopted in 2010. Monday, the Indiana Education Roundtable will vote on a new set of standards for the state’s public schools.
Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teacher’s Association says the trouble with Common Core started before the standards were officially adopted. She says some districts had the resources to properly train and prepare teachers to deal with Common Core. But others, she says, chose not to devote their limited resources to training.
Meredith says the new standards won’t be all that different from Common Core.
“There are some things that, no matter what you call the standards, you must teach in order for students to really be ready for whatever is coming at them down the road,” said Meredith. “For example, some very basic math and language arts skills: you can’t eliminate those just because there’s a ‘Common Core’ label on them or just because they’re from an old set of standards. They’re very important.”
WKU President Gary Ransdell is confident the school will be able to grow its international student body over the next several decades.
But he admits it will become more difficult to do so as countries such as China and India become wealthier and begin to build more of their own universities.
“There are not enough colleges and universities to meet the needs in an awful lot of the countries that have growing economies and growing populations. Therefore, we’re a solution," the WKU President said. "Now, in another generation—in another 25 or 30 years—they may have built enough universities to meet their needs.”
Dr. Ransdell says WKU is actively recruiting in several countries where the school has previously not had a presence.
“South America is really an emerging market for higher education," Ransdell said during a break in Friday's Board of Regents meeting. "We’re looking at as many as 90 students from Brazil next year. We’re always looking for new markets. Turkey is an emerging market for us. Their economy is doing great, and their families are looking for a place to send their sons and daughters.”
WKU is working to recruit students from a school in far western Kentucky that is closing at the end of June.
Mid-Continent University in Mayfield announced this week that it will shutter due to financial struggles. All employees have been laid off, though many faculty members have volunteered to continue helping students who are set to graduate this semester.
WKU Provost Gordon Emslie says the school has been working since the announcement to reach out to Mid-Continent students.
“We’re offering students the ability to transfer here, we’ll waive the application fee, we’ll match their courses in their catalogue to our courses in our catalogue, to try to facilitate that transfer as much as possible," Emslie told WKU Public Radio Friday. "We’ll work with them on tuition and scholarships, and financial aid. And we’re going to go out to Mayfield someday next week.”
Emslie said a website has also been set up to help Mid-Continent students learn more about transferring to WKU.
Mid-Continent is a non-profit university with about two-thousand students. Most are non-traditional and take online courses.
The Office of the Kentucky Attorney General has also set up a website dedicated to helping Mid-Continent students. In addition, the AG’s office sent letters to Mid-Continent administrators reminding them of their obligation to maintain all records as the school prepares to close.
The $20 billion budget passed by Kentucky lawmakers underfunds teachers’ pensions, giving the system hundreds of millions of dollars less than requested to keep it afloat.
Public school teachers in Kentucky don’t get Social Security benefits. They can’t even claim their spouses’ either. So that makes their pensions all the more important.
But the already tight-as-a-snare-drum budget passed by lawmakers continues to underfund the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System by about half the amount they need to bring the system -- which is currently about $13 billion short -- into the black.
Beau Barnes is general counsel for the KTRS. He says that changes in federal accounting laws will only compound the problem.
“The sooner the funding issue can be addressed, the better, because the longer it takes, the more difficult it’s going to be to address because the funding status will continue to decline,” said Barnes. “The GASB accounting measure of unfunded liability would have the pension fund running out of money in about 2036.”
Barnes says he’s optimistic the situation won’t come to that, and is looking forward to working with the governor and the legislature to address a problem to which, so far, they’ve given little more than lip service.
Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education is already tailoring its next state budget request to include performance funding for state universities.
The General Assembly did not include the CPE’s request for performance funding in its two-year spending plan that awaits the governor’s signature. CPE President Bob King says the performance funding request was among several suggestions to bring more money to the state’s universities.
“One of those purposes was to create a pot of money that would be distributed to the campuses tied to the proportion of degrees that they produced,” he said. “And there was a premium for students who earned degrees in the STEM field—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or in health fields because we know that our workforce needs people with those skills quite substantially.”
King says in addition to going over this legislative session’s budget to determine the tuition cap for state universities, the CPE is working on its funding request for the next session.