The state Senate unanimously blocked the planned closure of a satellite community college campus Wednesday and in the process sent a message to the Board of Regents that future campus closures will require legislative approval.
In an unusual move, the Senate blocked the closure of the Meriden campus of Middlesex Community College, which college officials said was necessary based on cuts in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s two-year, $40 billion budget.
Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, who co-chairs the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, introduced the amendment Wednesday. She said she’s spoken to students who have told her the closure of the Meriden campus would be “killing their dreams.”
But Bartolomeo said she doesn’t blame local administrators at Middlesex Community College for the closure. Instead, she blames Gregory Gray, president of the Board of Regents, the entity that oversees the four state universities and the 12 community colleges.
Board of Regents spokesman Michael Kozlowski said the decision to save nearly $500,000 by closing the Meriden campus was made by administrators at Middlesex Community College. The college was asked to find $800,000 in cuts.
“We believe those decisions are best made on a local level, closest to the students and the campus, by the administrators,” Kozlowski said.
Early in the debate, Senators warned about making budget decisions without the details of the rest of the budget. They wondered what made this satellite campus so special that it could be addressed outside of the larger budget process.
“This building has been bombarded with folks coming here asking this body to restore cuts in the budget,” Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, said. “Unless we have massive tax increases, we’re not going to restore all the money. We shouldn’t be making any promises.’‘
But the lawmakers’ desire to wait for the budget process to play itself out was trumped Wednesday by what appears to be their distrust of the Board of Regents — an entity created by Malloy.
“We cannot give up control,” Senate Republican leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said. “That’s up to us as policymakers.”
He suggested that the planned closure “was a complete overreach,” but that the legislature needed to accept some blame “because we have given up total control to the Board of Regents in this case.”
By approving the amendment Wednesday, the Senate agreed with a voice vote to take back some of their oversight.
Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, who was the former co-chairman of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, said he hates taking things out of context.
“I don’t know what happened to the rest of the community college and four-year school system because we don’t have that information,” Cassano said during the debate.
He said he doesn’t want to “get into the X’s and O’s of a budget,” but when those big decisions are being made, such as closing a campus, then the legislature needs to be consulted. The Meriden campus is home to the advanced manufacturing program, which was created and funded by the legislature. Closing such a program “is a slap in the face to this body,” Cassano said.
He said he was going to support the amendment even though he didn’t know what it does to the rest of the community colleges and the rest of the budget.
A total of 3,014 students are enrolled at Middlesex Community College and 647 students attend classes at the Meriden campus.
The bill now goes to the House.