The House of Delegates has approved legislation granting a one-year reprieve to the State Board for Community Colleges, which had been targeted for elimination by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in a surprise move in January.
The bill, amended by a House committee, was approved by the House yesterday, 132-2, and sent back to the Senate. If the Senate disagrees with the amendments, the bill will go to conference committee.
Schaefer, citing the $500,000 it would save, proposed to abolish the eight-member board and transfer oversight of the state's 17 community colleges to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
But the House Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee amended Schaefer's bill to allow the board to function through June 30, 1992. The committee agreed to extend the board's life after administration budget officials agreed to transfer $300,783 to fund nine staff positions for the board next year back into the state budget, said Del. Anne S. Perkins, D-City, the committee chairwoman.
Although the board's eight members are unpaid volunteers, the community college board has a paid staff of 18 administrators whose positions would be eliminated under Schaefer's plan.
The plan passed the Senate last week but ran into difficulty in the House after some legislators became concerned that community college administrators would "lose a voice" in the abrupt transfer of power. So committee members proposed a one-year delay to give lawmakers and educators more time to evaluate and phase in the idea.
Perkins said the legislators were concerned about re-employment of the 18-member state board staff and whether a reduction in force for running the community college system is an efficient idea.
"There is some concern about it, partially whether community colleges will be in a stronger position because of this," Perkins said. "I don't think this thing had been talked about, planned or worked through. Several members of the committee were a bit cynical about that. We want to have plenty of time to work out any problems."
Left standing is a plan to provide $300,000 in state "challenge grants" to community colleges that would match grants the colleges received from local governments or private sources for programs and research.
Members of the state board, a 25-year-old coordinating body, were stunned in January to learn that Schaefer was advocating abolishing their positions, said board Chairman Homer O. Elseroad.
Elseroad said he was not informed beforehand of the governor's decision to cut his board and its 18 administrators.
"This is not the kind of thing that needs to be handled hastily," said Elseroad, a former superintendent of the Montgomery County school system who has served on the board for 11 years. "There is not a crisis and no problem that would cause such action."
The Schaefer plan to transfer the state board's power to the higher education commission would form another layer of bureaucracy at the commission that was formed in 1988 during a major reorganization of higher education in the state.
A position of assistant secretary for community college education would be created and eight staff members would be hired, said Jeff Welsh, commission spokesman. An umbrella group of representatives of the boards of trustees for the 17 community colleges would continue to function, Welsh said.