JCCC Board of Trustees candidates on the issues: Elimination of track, tennis and cross country programs

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of the August primary. Based on the (ample) input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for Johnson County Community College board of trustees.

Today we share the candidates’ responses to question four:

The elimination of the track, tennis and cross country programs has generated a good deal of push back from some members of the community. What’s your vision for the future of athletics at JCCC? Would you support having those programs reinstated?

Lori Bell

I understand that decisions needed to be made that reflect the current athletics in Johnson County such as soccer. I believe it would have cost a significant amount to improve the current track and facilities and a difficult decision was made to change over to more soccer fields. I would hope that track, tennis and cross country begin to grow again and JCCC can serve those students in the future.

While I understand the decision, I do not understand the lack of transparency on the Board of Trustees to discuss this matter in a way that could be understood. Outgoing Trustee Dave Lindstrom contended that more than $1 million dollars would be required to be spent for ADA compliance – this dollar amount was never mentioned again with any data outside of one interview. Other Trustees on the board only contended it was a “hard decision”, but they did not offer compelling data that would help the public accept their case. We have to do much better about making sure the public understands why the board acts as it does.

Colleen Cunningham

I remember the pushback that occurred following the elimination of the track and cross-country programs, and in reviewing news articles published about that, what strikes me is that the pushback was over how that decision was made, as much as it was over the decision itself. It appears that the affected parties didn’t feel they were given a sufficient opportunity to weigh in on the decision before it was made, and after the fact there were a number of different reasons given for why the decision was made. For example, I found it to be disconcerting that one reason given for eliminating these programs was that to maintain them, student fees would have to be raised by $1, and that was an unthinkable thing to do because of the harm it would do to students. Yet less than two years later, tuition was raised in the same amount, with the justification that rates hadn’t been raised in a while. The mill levy was reduced during this same time frame, further weakening this rationale.

As far as the athletics programs themselves, I would like to see more data about them. I know that they provide many students with more opportunities to access higher education, and all of the benefits that result from that. I also know that athletics programs can be costly to maintain. I would like more information so that I can determine what an appropriate balance of those goals would be, and would support having these programs reinstated if the data, including input from stakeholders, supports that course of action.

Jameia Haines

Deciding to eliminate athletics is not an easy decision. Participating in college sports can be life changing for students. When difficult decisions need to be made, communication builds understanding around those situations. Given that athletic scholarships are paid for by student fees, my vision of the future of athletics at Johnson County Community College is that the sports that are offered are able to be sufficiently supported with minimal impact on students.

Nancy Ingram (incumbent)

Although there are many opinions regarding sports programs at a community college, Johnson County Community College offers a variety of intercollegiate sports from which to participate. Sports complement the student experience by providing the opportunity for life-long learning values such as teamwork, individual goal setting and persistence.

The decision to expand existing programs and upgrade facilities was made several years ago. As a part of that decision, the cross country and track programs were eliminated. There were a host of factors that led to the decision by the board.

Most would agree that sports provide a sense of pride in the institution among the students, staff and faculty, as well as the community at large. We also understand
many students to be juggling their classes, jobs and family with little time to spare so although not everyone may choose to participate, their availability and the scholarships that accompany them are still of great value. The opportunity to participate in sports is something I support. With state of funding of higher education it is not clear that we will move to re-instate sports, or further expand them. Data specific to cost and revenue and participation will be helpful in future conversations and in making informed decisions about any existing or potential new programs in the near future. I am always open to any further conversation about sports.

With the renovation projects currently underway or recently completed, our commitment to the sports on the JCCC campus is evident. I want to ensure that not only our sports teams, but programs such as Model U.N., debate team, musicians; our performance based scholarships- all of which are funded by student fees- have the resources to be successful in the future.

Greg Musil (incumbent)

JCCC’s tennis program was discontinued in 2014 (along with the golf program). I have heard no issue regarding these programs or interest in reinstating either of them.

Track and cross country were discontinued in 2018. Not surprising, many track and cross country athletes, then-current and past, were upset, and there has been much debate and misinformation about the reasoning behind the decision. Let me share my perspective – with the background that among JCCC’s track alumni are my nephew Adam and niece Carly from rural Kansas, both of whom ran track and cross country at JCCC as scholarship athletes. My vote was hardly anti-track or anti-athletics.

The reality is that JCCC was the LAST community college in the metro to continue to fund a track and cross country program. Every other local community college had already eliminated their programs well before we made that decision. The College was spending about $450,000 a year on a relatively small (although clearly effective, engaged, and passionate) group of student athletes, around $250,000 of which was paid by other students in the form of student fees. In addition, our track facility needed several hundred thousand dollars in upgrades and was not equipped to hold a sanctioned track meet.

No question that program had a successful history in competition, and no one likes to say “no” to any program, whether a new one or an existing one. I’ve heard it argued that because Johnson County is “rich”, JCCC could afford an upgraded track and to keep the programs. The reality, though, it that the Board of Trustees has a fiduciary duty to all citizens in the County to prioritize spending and programming. From fiscal year 2015/16 through fiscal year 2019-20 the College will collect nearly $20 million in new and additional property taxes (about a 21% increase from property taxpayers, two-thirds of which comes from homeowners and apartment residents), and at some point we need to acknowledge that we simply can’t afford to be everything for everybody, whether in athletics or elsewhere. (I will always remember that students pay property taxes, too.)

The Board, by consensus and a public vote, ultimately chose to use the track location to upgrade our women’s softball field and our women’s and men’s soccer fields, add parking and restrooms and handicapped accessibility, and improve the availability of our facilities to the community. By focusing on fewer sports we can maintain support for programs and facilities that benefit the broader Johnson County community.

Back to track/CC, I have met with track proponents and asked for realistic funding sources that might allow JCCC to partner with K-12 and youth-to-adult track and running programs, but I am not aware of any serious funding sources or any broad level of community interest. If someone wants to reinstate the programs, please tell us where the several million dollars of costs would come from.

Please review my live comments at the January and March 2018 JCCC Board of Trustee meetings online at www.jccc.edu.

Chris Roesel

There are several problems with the elimination of the mentioned sports teams at JCCC. One is how they were eliminated: non-consultatively. Another is what was eliminated: sports that use many calories and result in low-weight, aerobic, and heart health. Let me explain.

First, my platform is inclusion, transparency, and benefit to students and the community. The elimination of the track, tennis, and cross-country programs was done non-consultatively, non-transparently (the criteria were never specified), and apparently without consideration of the impact on students and the community. I attended meetings after the decision and never heard otherwise from the Board. I heard something about a survey that was never shared. The effect is imposed decisions rather than consultative ones. That’s basically bad form. It is impositional government, not democratic.

Second, the decision is problematic in that the USA is suffering an epidemic of chronic diseases associated with obesity and lack of exercise. I know because I am a public health nutritionist who has studied the problem. Eliminating several of the programs that best address these crises is stupid.

I would invite students, faculty, staff, and community to participate in redressing the Board’s decision. That is how good decision-making should be done—bringing everyone’s perspective to the table and making decisions everyone can live with. I’ve done this elsewhere. I intend to do it at JCCC.

Cassandra Peters

Did not respond.

Laura Smith-Everett

For me I don’t think my “vision” is really what’s important. I think the question is whether it’s important and valued by the students and faculty of the college. It seems in reviewing this decision it may not have been so much about the ultimate decision as to how the decision happened suddenly and with limited input and notice. Collegiate sports is an incredibly powerful experience for students and clearly this program was supported and loved by many. I think the bigger picture here is how we work to balance the budget, future of departments/programs and the way we approach phasing out beloved programs. I think collegiate sports play a really critical role to a well rounded college experience and thus, we should always work to maintain them. I also think balancing the budgetary priorities of an institution is tricky. So I would offer that I would always seek to hear from the parties affected by these decisions. I would also always ask school administrators how these decisions (some that may be uncomfortable or make groups unhappy) will be communicated. I will not vote for any decision that I feel is made in haste or without consideration for how stakeholders will be affected.

Farha Azaz

The JCCC Athletics program is deemed first-class within our region and regularly ranks among the top programs in national rankings. Athletics are a valuable component of the educational experience at JCCC, and help us retain our best and brightest students. Sports teach the participant and the observer about testing one’s own limits and challenging others to meet that threshold. The enduring values of challenge and response, teamwork and discipline, perseverance and achievement inspire students and create pride in our community.

Considering athletics programs are well-funded at KU and K-State and all 4 year colleges and universities, investment in the athletics department is crucial to better serve the students we wish to retain. It is great that we offer seven varsity sports, including baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, men’s and volleyball.

JCCC’s operational budget is approximately $160M. Terminating track, tennis and cross county was described as a decision based on cost-to-value proposition, but these programs were a part of the original budgetary plan, and removed without public input. Like many members of our community, I would like to explore options to bring these programs back if possible. Even though student participation in these programs is fewer in number than other sports offered, there is definitely value to students that leverage them.

As in the case of the recently-eliminated Brown and Gold program for senior citizens, the Board of Trustees can sometimes treat programs as line items on a budget, without considering their value to our whole community. For example, many of the users of the track were neighborhood seniors maintaining their fitness. Connecting seniors with the JCCC community is an important part of our mission.

Participation in athletic contests – irrespective of skill level or type of sport – teach us that goals worth achieving will be attained only through effort, hard work and sacrifice. But sometimes even those will not be enough to overcome the health obstacles life places in our path. Those who have physical limitations, like our seniors, and cannot participate in baseball, basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball, should still be able to experience the physical and spiritual benefits of athletics through track.

Mo Azeem

I support reinstating the track, tennis and cross country programs. If college experience was only limited to cramming the curriculum, the Khan Academys of the world would be enough to educate the students and we could do away with the “college experience.” Attending college is far more than that and sports is an integral part of shaping the overall personality that includes preparing for competition, winning with humility and losing with grace.

Val Baul

The decision in 2014 on the elimination of the track resonates today because, even though it was decided by prior boards, the community felt shut out of the decision. We counted on trustees to walk us through the decision making process in an open and transparent way. The reason why many in the community are upset about this decision is because we see JCCC spend significantly on new construction, and yet, the support of the track, which was used by students beyond the athletic programs represented too much cost. I know the value of an open outdoor walking space, where students who simply want better health can walk and think.

5 years later, community members are still unsure of the process. When we make such big decisions that impact our community, we need to make sure the community feels heard and participates in the process. Even if they disagree with the outcome, they feel respected. It is not only faculty who need the relationship with trustees repaired.

We have to explain to the community whether or not this decision was driven with data, or if the decision to eliminate the track was one that reflects a desire to build new buildings, come up with new naming opportunities and put contractors to work.

Tennis is my favorite sport, so if there’s anything I think a school should have, it’s a tennis court. Whatever the future of athletics is at JCCC, I want those decisions made by the entire community, with everybody’s voice in the process.

Tomorrow we’ll share the candidates’ responses to question four:

What’s your primary motivation for running for the JCCC Board of Trustees?