Tony Luetkemeyer

Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, explains Thursday from his office in Jefferson City his vision for junior collegiate education in St. Joseph.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Legislation sponsored by St. Joseph’s delegate to the Missouri Senate aims to support the Hillyard Technical Center and operating agencies, whomever they end up being.

Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer explained Thursday he is urging the Legislature to pass appropriations worth $1.1 million in additional funding for the center, which trains area students in STEM and practical job skills, while also hosting an annex of Metropolitan Community College of Kansas City, Missouri.

“Increasing our investment in this program will ensure young people are better prepared to hit the ground running in today’s increasingly competitive and highly complex work environment,” Luetkemeyer said in his announcement of the proposal, ahead of answering follow-up questions.

MCC’s role is subject to change, as Luetkemeyer continues to promote SB 390, which if passed as written would take MCC’s jurisdiction over Buchanan County public school districts and unite it with Grundy County’s institution, North Central Missouri College of Trenton. The two concepts are separate in nature, and involve different pieces of legislation, but their potential effects are closely interrelated.

The common idea: Upgrade St. Joseph’s system for career and technical education, which area legislators and businesses agree is not producing enough workers who have expertise in areas of plumbing, welding and auto maintenance, for the sake of offering a few examples. In a Thursday phone interview, Chamber of Commerce President R. Patt Lilly reaffirmed these community needs.

Nobody argues with more funding, but the Missouri Community College Association continues to regard SB 390 as an unwise intervention in the relationships between its members. This position is supported by both MCC and NCMC. Missouri’s junior colleges are assigned to different areas based on collective agreement, and the Association considers SB 390 as one that will lead to lawmakers telling them what to do and how to do it, without a connection to local needs.

“Our testimony is based on how this would set a bad precedent,” said Brian Millner, association president. “So, if the bill passes, Buchanan County will be the only county in the state of Missouri drawn (externally) into a service region, and we’ve just maintained the position ... the community colleges have always been able to work through any issues of needing to alter or amend service regions. That has worked well since they were created in the 1990s.”

Luetkemeyer said he considers this take to be based primarily on internal collegiate politics and rivalries. The senator alluded to how MCC’s history of active involvement at Hillyard for the last three years is predated by NCMC initiatives, such as the North Belt Center at 6503 North Belt Highway. Hillyard itself was built in 1941 and has since been expanded. The institution won’t be fundamentally changed and can continue to grow, Luetkemeyer explained, regardless of who is running the show.

“What I would say is this: If this bill passes and NCMC becomes the service provider for Buchanan County, they will be an excellent partner,” he said. “NCMC has been providing junior collegiate services for years, before MCC ever came here.”

Marcus Clem can be reached at marcus.clem@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowClem

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