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Education News Round Up in Missouri and Kansas as Schools face Credibility and Financial Pressures in Summer 2010

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This past week, I decided to review my scrapbook of local news stories from summer 2010. Here is a quick summery of the larger local issues that likely find echoes throughout the USA as state educational institutions face funding shortfalls and continue to be looked at askance by the public at large.

In late April of 2010, the Board of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCUMB), the largest medical training school in the state of Missouri, voted down an agreement negotiated by the prior KCUMB president and the current MSSU (Missouri Southern State University) president. A variety of political issues arise when one reviews the various articles written in the 2nd and 3rd quarter of 2010 on this ongoing topic of how to realize an osteopathic medical school in Southwestern, Missouri. This is a region where many towns and small clinics do not have enough qualified medical staff on hand. It has been hoped that the creation of the new school would serve the greater 4-State region's rural areas through expanded training programs and debt-write-off schemes for medical students. For example, the agreement would have required MSSU to raise over 10 million dollars immediately to fund the project.

The project was proposed to MSSU in 2008 by a local medical steering committee and was originally presented as a stand-alone school. MSSU, however, had balked at the proposed 70 million dollar price-tag. This led to the search for partners, which MSSU leaders have fully taken part in over the past two years. The turn-down from KCUMB this April has led to the publicly proactive search for other alternative medical schools to invite to the Joplin-MSSU area. The university steering committee has contacted other medical schools and has released the name of A.T. Still University's Medical School in Kirksville, Missouri as one of the next candidates. In the media, the head of the medical steering committee in Joplin says the project is "a noble cause" and therefore will be pursued with vigor despite the set-back with KCUMB. The pro-medical-school steering-committee is being more and more open and is, therefore, sitting down with the press more often in recent months to increase public confidence in this new effort to expand medical qualifications in the 4-State region.

One July 2010 article revealed that the makeup of the steering committee included representation by the two major hospitals in Joplin. Other community leaders listed in that interview were "(MSSU)Board member Dwight Douglas also serves on the committee, along with (MSSU) University President Bruce Speck. Community leaders on the committee include Chamber of Commerce President Rob O'Brian and Bill Gibson, President and CEO of Empire Electric." The focus of the recent media effort appears aimed to assure all stakeholders in the area that the search for a partner is not over and that important stakeholders have a short- and long term interest in seeing the project realised--despite all the funding shortfalls shaking Missouri during this economic downturn. Part of this summer's media blitz has also been information emanating from the current KCUMB interim president that KCUMB has not entirely written off a partnership.

It should be noted that the former KCUMB president who negotiated the deal with MSSU in 2009 had been fired in December, so it is now being implied that the April 2010 vote in Kansas City (to turn down the partnership with MSSU) may have had much more to do with the internal political squabbles with the former KCUMB president than with KCUMB as an institution. However, this is a fully unsubstantiated insinuation due to the medical steering committee's prior lack of transparency (from 2008 through the early part of 2010). Scrutiny in Joplin has been strong from students. In summary, many students and other stakeholders--not affiliated with health care industryargue that other funding needs at MSSU should be a greater priority as the state government cuts funding right-and-left this summer. (In such a climate, I believe that Medical School Steering committee and MSSU leaders need to make their case clearer and share how much funding has already been lined up from private sources to the media.)

According to the media, secrecy is a charge that many schools, districts and boards across the state are facing. Missourians claim to be tired of what they claim to be wasteful spending in schools and school boards. Schools are particularly under-attack by press and media in the Springfield area this year. A taxpayers' coalition has rounded up more than 6000 signatures to try and have the Springfield District audited by the state. That appears to be enough signatures to do require a Missouri State audit. However, there appears to be a racist or xenophobic undertone about the campaign. (Some of the charges are that the district is hiring Romanian workers.) A key problem is apparently again a lack of transparency. For example, an old school property was sold for 4.2 million dollars in April with no clear goal for the usage of the funds. (This shows again community distrust for school officials. A proactive response might be to simply assure the community in a press statement that the money from the sold-school would be used for infrastructural improvements. On the other hand, some things, like xenophobic charges against foreigners might be left not responded to in the press. )

Aside from funding issues and transparency issues, in several summer 2010 newspaper and magazine articles, I observe that university and schools have been busy reaching out to parents or bringing parents more into the school community in recent years by creating "big events". For example, many schools are holding 5th and 6th grade graduations--something that was not common at all 4 decades ago. Many universities are holding 3-day-long events for parents in summer, prior to their kids attending the university in August and September. These special university summer sessions have foci, such as "what to do when your child calls home", "how to live in an empty nest" and even lectures and rigorous academic discussions on books, .e.g. Ulysses. These trends to having such public events are surprising because such events cost school districts, parents, and universities money and time when the economy is not doing well. However, these public events are both effective and proactive approaches to satisfying both parents and students in the short and intermediate term.


Just as news reports of massive-teacher-firings in Kansas City schools and major funding cutbacks across Missouri are reverberating among school districts and universities in the state, the Missouri state budget director announced that "Fiscal Year 2010 ended with net general revenue collections declining 9.1 percent compared to Fiscal year 2009." Worse still, "Net general revenue collections for June 2010 decreased 21.8 percent compared to those for June 2009".

The neighboring state of Kansas school districts are facing similar state pressures--and may expect even more drastic cuts than Missouri. Pittsburgh State University (PSU) , Kansas, which is only a few miles across the Missouri state line and only a 40-minute drive from Joplin has responded to the economic crisis by raising its tuition this August 2010. Meanwhile, PSU has also just signed contracts with two northern Arkansas counties to allow those students to pay instate tuition at PSU starting immediately. The Kansas Board of Regents accepted PSU's argument that, geographically, the two populous Arkansas counties of Benton and Washington are important in regional market of the 4-state region, which includes both Joplin and Pittsburgh. "PSU officials noted that large schools in those counties {Benton and Washington] are closer than some of PSUs large feeder schools in the Kansas City, Wichtia, and Tulsa, Okla. areas." MSSU in Joplin already has similar cross-state-line agreements.

In summary, with the American economy in shambles, it is important for schools, communities and states to consider employment multiplier effects when making spending decisions and in negotiating agreements among other schools or states in the region. Increasing parents support of schools and universities can be promoted by involving them more with on campus events, which create a greater long term sense of community are helpful. As well, if a new project, like the MSSU medical project is to get underway, it will need to gain more public support and private funding. Increasing transparency and holding fund raising events, whereby the rationale for the medical school is laid clearly before media and public are essential. (In some ways, the need for such a community partnership with higher education opportunities in medicine is very important for regional economic development for every county on all sides of the Missouri border should be a no-brainer, but the case has obviously still not been made here in Southwest Missouri by the think tank behind the MSSU-Medical School Project. Without more media exposure in all of the 4 state region, there will be little success in current drive to create medical training center in Southwest Missouri.)

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KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)

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