A bill to reorganize how area community colleges host career and technical training services is before the Missouri Senate, inspiring disagreement.

At the Hillyard Technical Center, Metropolitan Community College of Kansas City, Missouri, hosts classes in practical nursing, becoming a certified nursing assistant, welding and machining. It also provides instruction in radiologic and surgical technologies, among related sciences.

SB 390, backed by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, would shift MCC’s Buchanan County jurisdiction to North Central Missouri College, which operates mainly out of Trenton, Grundy County. It does not contain any device to move classes or studies out of St. Joseph, but NCMC is building a satellite campus in Savannah, Andrew County, for future academics. 

Any prospect of students or classes moving would be determined in the future, but Luetkemeyer said he believes NCMC would not de-emphasize learning in city limits by any means.

“The real key here is having a partner where St. Joe is gonna be, I think, a focal point of their mission,” Luetkemeyer said. “NCMC does not serve a geographic area that’s densely populated. St. Joseph would be their largest population center if we redraw the district, and I think that means St. Joseph will get additional attention because of that.”

Dr. Lenny Klaver, North Central president, said that the moves contained in SB 390 came as a surprise. However, he said, no aspect of this conversation will pause, advance or alter any aspect of his college’s pre-existing plans to invest major resources in Savannah.

“Neither I nor anyone else at NCMC had any awareness of the proposed legislation when it was filed,” Klaver said. “I was shocked and wondered why no one from the senator’s office had contacted us prior to the filing. We still (as of Thursday) have had no contact at the college from Sen. Luetkemeyer.”

Klaver added he does not expect the legislation to pass. His stance is informed by a desire to keep good relations with MCC and other peers.

“(We) believe our greatest need in that direction is to serve the needs up I-29 to the Iowa border and east over toward Maryville, Bethany, King City, Albany and other small communities and the rural areas,” Klaver said. “That is why our focus is on Savannah ...”

Al Landes, member of the Missouri Western Board of Governors and a retired longtime executive for Herzog Contracting Corp., said if he had his druthers, there would be no need to assign St. Joseph, Savannah or any other place to a junior college. Landes spoke only in his capacity as a business expert. 

The district concept leads to noisy turf wars, Landes explained, emphasizing the point when the disagreement between Luetkemeyer and the collegiate leaders was pointed out to him by a reporter.

“As a result of competition, the product we produce is superior,” Landes said. “That’s what we as business leaders have done all our lives.”

As things stand, Landes backs SB 390. If the courses at Hillyard now end up being moved to the new Savannah campus, Landes said, well, that's just a 15-minute drive. The bill itself does nothing to initiate such a transfer.

“I’m from St. Joseph. I prefer to have everything close and whatever else in here,” Landes said. “But, it’s not like in this case, it’s not like (Savannah is) that far away in regard to that. Now, let’s just go back to NCMC ... I just don’t think it’s a showstopper, I’ll put it that way.”

Dr. Kimberly Beatty, chancellor of Metropolitan Community College, said MCC’s investments are at risk, regarding higher education in St. Joseph, done in partnership with the St. Joseph School District at Hillyard Technical Center.

“The time that we’ve invested, you can’t even put a price tag on that,” she said. “It’s really been a process. And, we’ve only been there two years and I’m very proud to say that we’ve got, unduplicated, 400-some students enrolled there. After one year of pandemic. I mean, that’s herculean.”

Luetkemeyer said he finds such arguments unpersuasive. Whether it is MCC or NCMC providing services, classes will remain in St. Joseph and be expanded at the new campus in Savannah. The timeline on all of this is “to be determined.” The Senate goes on spring break next week; upon its return on Monday, March 22, the bill can advance.

Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, supports the bill, but is otherwise uninvolved. State Rep. Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, said Thursday it remains in the Senate’s hands at this point; House members have not yet reviewed it.

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

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