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Truman not giving up on Greenwood Center project

Kirksville Daily Express - 7/24/2018

July 23--Truman President Dr. Susan Thomas likens the proposed Greenwood Center's autism clinic budget appropriation to riding a roller coaster.

When the Missouri Legislature ended its session in May, the project was set to receive $700,000. Several weeks later Gov. Mike Parson made $12 million in line-item vetoes, including a third of the Greenwood money.

This wasn't anything new. In 2017, the project was slated to receive $1.5 million in the state's capital improvements bill. That legislation failed to get out of committee. And in 2016 Gov. Jay Nixon announced the project would receive $5.5 million, only to restrict more than half of those funds a month later.

So in many ways, the project receiving $466,667 in new money is a win. That's the way Thomas is looking at it as the ride continues.

"This is the roller coaster of Greenwood," Thomas said. "But I would also say we are not giving up on any of this."

The Greenwood Center would provide services to children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, while also giving Truman students an environment in which to study for careers in the field. When initially proposed it had a projected budget of $20 million.

It would fill a growing need. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control said about 1 in 150 children had an ASD diagnosis. Most recently, that rate has jumped to 1 in 59.

Meanwhile, available services haven't kept up with demand. In northeast Missouri, families need to travel more than 90 miles to find them.

Enter Greenwood Center.

Thomas said the funding that was approved for the next state budget will be put toward exterior work on the building, targeting things like windows and tuckpointing. The hope is to complete those kinds of needs so additional funds in the future can be directed toward restoring and renovating the Greenwood School building's interior.

"We're going to take a look now and fall back and see exactly what can be done. We'll start pricing things and figure out exactly what it means to do it," Thomas said.

The Truman president said in conversations with lawmakers she finds widespread support for the project, and notes the Greenwood Center wasn't a target of Parson's cut. It's her understanding that all projects in the capital improvements bill that did not have a 50-50 money match received a one-third cut.

The arguments to make next, Thomas said, is that kind of match is difficult for a public university to pull off.

"We'll keep making the case that not a lot of money comes to this part of the state and for universities like ours, it's harder to do a 50-50 match. Except for probably the University of Missouri system and Missouri State, for the other universities it's harder to do 50-50 matches. That makes it harder to get money.

"There's not a lot of state money that comes to northern Missouri, and this is not a whole lot of money to make a really huge impact," she said.

While not willing to share all details, Thomas said Truman is working with "some very cool partners" on a pilot program she said could help make their case more strongly for state support.

"We're not giving up. I think we are forming some partnerships that will allow us to do a pilot that we can use to make the case even more strongly that the rest of the money needs to be put into the building," she said.

As for the budget as a whole, Thomas said the university was grateful that lawmakers found funds to reverse former Gov. Eric Greitens' proposed 7.73-percent cut. While Truman came out with not quite level funding from a year ago -- in which the budget was cut 9 percent -- it avoided catastrophe.

"It would have been really painful for Truman. After 9 percent this year to have another 7.73 percent cut for next year, that would have been really terrible," Thomas said.

The university will have fewer faculty positions, with seven faculty members not renewed for the upcoming academic year. Other funds are being reallocated to areas deemed priorities, determined through scrutiny and study.

"You can talk about cuts all the time, but if you're always being reactive to cuts, you're not going where you need to go," Thomas said, noting priorities like faculty and staff salaries, academic programs, equipment and technology.

Some programs are changing as some majors are eliminated. The art history and Russian majors no longer exist, but the art and foreign language programs have been reworked to allow students to have an emphasis on those areas.

The university is also finding areas to add programs and meet demand, including a master of mental health counseling degree program and a data science certificate program.

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(c)2018 Kirksville Daily Express, Mo.

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