Cape leaders tout positives despite money woes

Saturday, October 25, 2003

The Cape Girardeau School District needs money and is making cuts.

Southeast Missouri State University needs money and is making cuts.

But all in all, the community is going to be just fine.

That was the consensus of the schools superintendent, university president and mayor who, along with a hospital administrator, made presentations Friday to alumni of the chamber of commerce's Leadership Cape training program for the city's professionals.

At least some of the alums at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center were convinced.

"We're a blessed community with a lot going for us regarding education and economic development that we can be proud of," said Kathy Swan, owner of telecommunications firm JCS Tel-Link.

The presenters provided an overview of what is happening in their various organizations:

Cape Girardeau schools superintendent Mark Bowles reminded the audience that a task force to find $2.2 million to cut from next year's budget will organize on Monday. He explained step by step how the district came to be that short, with problems ranging from state withholding to loss of grants to local tax revenue coming in even lower than projected.

He said the task force would try to do the least harm to direct student instruction.

"Sorry I didn't get to tell you about programs, but this is our concern right now," he ended.

Steven Bjelich, president and CEO of St. Francis Medical Center, discussed building the relationship between doctors and the hospital. He said the 238 physicians on the St. Francis medical staff helped design the hospital's $48 million expansion, currently under construction.

That sort of relationship with Poplar Bluff doctors allowed St. Francis to open a branch there, providing diagnostic imaging, an operating room and other services.

Dr. Ken Dobbins, university president, initially took time to discuss Southeast's growth. Enrollment is at a record 9,750. It is the state's second-fastest-growing university since 1994, behind University of Missouri-Kansas City.

However, students are having to carry more of the burden for paying for their education, Dobbins said -- 43.9 percent in 2004, up from 14.5 percent in 1981.

As a result of that figure and a $2.4 million shortfall in the current operating budget, the university is reviewing some academic and nonacademic programs that could be eliminated. The board of regents will hear a report Nov. 14 on what will go.

Last, Mayor Jay Knudtson said he took the stage to crow about some city accomplishments.

Among the projects he mentioned were the stormwater detention basin, the Fountain Street extension, Marquette Hotel renovations and the groundbreaking for a new federal courthouse, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 3 on the land next to city hall.

Kathy Gaulding, Leadership Cape alum and Trane account manager, said she was pleased to learn the status of the courthouse project and the other information presented.

"I wanted to get an update about our community and get to know our leaders a little better," she said.

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