Redlands Community College is a public school. Business it conducts is supposed to be done in public. Any discussion about it being merged with a larger school needs to be just as public.
El Reno Mayor Matt White is right to argue the process of possibly merging RCC with a larger institution has to be done in public view. Until White started making calls to state lawmakers and some members of the RCC Board of Regents, very little information was put forth by RCC officials. It was basically a message of “trust us.”
Public money should be about trust, but more importantly it has to be about transparency.
Dan Little, the head of one of the committees of the 60-member task force created by the State Regents to recommend changes to the higher education system, said the initial thought was to close Redlands and five other “small and rural” two-year schools. Thankfully, the committee pulled back from that thinking, instead offering schools like RCC a chance to merge its independent board with those of either a regional school or the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University.
After the El Reno Tribune contacted RCC a couple of weeks ago about the issue, a statement was released indicating RCC would be working with “regional” partners. That would seem to indicate the school is moving toward a merger with a school such as Southwestern Oklahoma State University or the University of Central Oklahoma.
While that may be good and fine, White argues the process needs to be open to know what if any interest OU or OSU might bring to the table. He argues the issue deserves a long-term outlook.
From here his argument appears sound.
If the task force, even for a brief moment, considered closing schools like Redlands, what’s to say 10 years from now there might not be another call for even more consolidation? If that were to happen, which school would El Reno, Yukon and Mustang rather be tied to?
That’s a legitimate question that deserves to be asked and answered in a public setting. A school like Southwestern also might want to be careful for what it asks. The population of Canadian County is several times larger than Custer County where the school’s main campus is located. Odds are that gap will grow larger as the years pass. Down the road could politics tilt board power to the more heavily populated area?
RCC President Jack Bryant deserves credit for keeping the school afloat after inheriting a financial mess from his predecessor. But Bryant will be long retired, while communities like El Reno, Yukon and Mustang will either reap the benefits of this decision or hold bitter feelings if they weren’t allowed a voice at the table.
Bryant, again to his credit, said he expects the process to be made open to the public although he said he can’t make that decision. It will have to come from the RCC board.
Thankfully, White doesn’t wait for committee approval before speaking out on tough issues.
No one asked, but here’s my opinion.
Redlands should send out Requests for Proposals to every entity that might possibly be interested in assuming management of the school. Send RFP’s to the regional schools, to OU and OSU, heck, send one to Canadian Valley Technology Center. Add a little competition to the equation and see what ideas may surface that could take Redlands to the next level.
The final decision of which school Redlands merges with will rest with elected state lawmakers. And actually, it should have been that body, rather than the mayor of El Reno, demanding the process be made open.