ACCC, Fort Scott pursue partnership

Register Reporter

Register/Richard Luken
Participating in a joint meeting between the Allen County and Fort Scott community colleges boards of trustees are, from left, ACCC Trustee Harvey Rogers, ACCC President John Masterson, FSCC Trustee Curtis Shankel, ACCC Vice President for Finance and Operations Steve Troxel and FSCC President Clayton Tatro.

FORT SCOTT — School officials from Allen County and Fort Scott community colleges have taken the first step in what they hope will become a mutually beneficial partnership.
Trustees from the schools participated in a joint meeting hosted by FSCC Monday evening to determine ways the schools could work together in the face of ongoing state budget crisis.
“We want to take this opportunity to get our boards together so that we can get to know each other and start a dialogue,” FSCC President Clayton Tatro said. “This is an opportunity for us to share resources and share ideas.”
In order for two schools to work together, a level of trust must be established, ACCC President John Masterson said.
“There’s a tendency for schools to be a little bit competitive in southeast Kan-sas,” Masterson said. “Clayton and I have hit it off well. An opportunity like this will be fun to explore.”
Masterson referred to Tatro’s affiliation with Garden City Community College, where he was dean of learning services before becoming FSCC president in 2007. Community colleges in the western part of the state have a long history of working together, Masterson noted, because sharing programs and resources makes it easier to deal with a shrinking student population.
The two presidents spoke glowingly of both community colleges.
Tatro pointed to Allen County’s strength in its online courses and its outreach center at Burlingame. “Allen County is ahead of where we are with its interactive distance learning and interactive television courses.”
Tatro also said he hoped to emulate Allen County’s outreach success at FSCC’s outreach center in Paola.
“There are some other things that Iola may have that we don’t,” Tatro said, “and we’d look at what we may have that Iola doesn’t.”
Masterson, meanwhile, said FSCC had been able to develop vocational education programs, such as FSCC’s training programs for Harley Davidson and John Deere, “where we’ve had limited success.” Fort Scott also has similar programs for heating and air conditioning services, cosmetology and a newly developed construction technology program.

ALLEN COUNTY Trustee Spencer Ambler said he was encouraged by the dialogue.
“We’ve been trying to do things like this since the early ’80s, and we’ve run into a brick wall many times,” Ambler said. “With money at the state level getting more scarce, this may be something we have to do as individual institutions in order to survive.”
The wheels for a partnership were in motion before the meeting ended.
Jon Marshall, ACCC’s vice president for academic affairs, will begin working immediately with Mary Ann Leamon-Childers, FSCC’s dean of instruction, on what he described as a potential “low-risk” course, in this case, high level mathematics. Allen County traditionally has had difficulty finding enough students to offer some courses. Perhaps the schools could share an instructor, he said.
Marshall and Leamon-Childers will work through the summer and fall with anticipation a joint course could be offered by the spring 2010 semester, he told the Register following the meeting.
“We’ll see how the program goes,” Marshall said. “We’ll find where the obstacles are, and where the obstacles aren’t.”
In order for the program to work, the schools must first ensure their curriculums are aligned.
Allen County Trustee Larry Manes said the schools would need to have uniform text books for joint ventures to work.
“There are a lot of logistics involved,” Marshall said.
Jim Fewins, FSCC trustee and an Elsmore native, wondered if the schools should consider partnering in areas not related to academics.
For example, could both colleges qualify for lower insurance rates if they acted as a single customer? Would they be willing to work together on a gas contract or wind energy project? Perhaps Fort Scott and Allen County could “share” transportation fleets or a bus driver or two, he offered.
“One of the benefits we have is that the schools mirror each other so well,” Fewins said.

MASTERSON spoke again about the trust issue.
“I think if you say, ‘We have a partnership,’ then it adds a little more credibility and acceptance,” Masterson said.
“From what I understand, don’t you have the lowest enrollment fees in the state?” FSCC Trustee Curtis Shankel asked Masterson.
Allen County’s fees are among the lowest in Kansas, Masterson replied.
“Then I trust you,” Shankel said.
Manes said the discussions were enlightening.
“I didn’t realize until we got here that I had only met one of the Fort Scott trustees before tonight,” Manes said. “Here we are, 38 miles apart, and we don’t know each other.”
“Now’s our opportunity,” said Fort Scott trustee Myrtle Ann Collum. “If this is our starting point, then something has to follow up from this meeting.”
“This will give us an opportunity to see how the other half works,” Manes agreed.
The two boards will meet again, likely at some point in the fall, to consider Marshall’s and Leamon-Childers’s progress, and to determine where other partnerships may be feasible.
Allen County Trustee Jim Talkington wondered if other schools could be involved. Allen County has worked with Neosho County Community College in past, he noted.
Opportunities to bring in other schools may result if the joint venture is successful, Ambler responded. “Any time you have something good, others will want to be a part,” he said.