Three Rivers drops suit against SEMO

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Three Rivers Community College ended a bitter three-year feud with Southeast Missouri State University on Tuesday, dropping a lawsuit without prejudice.

"The board wanted to move forward with a new mission. They wanted to put the past to rest," said Dr. Larry Kimbrow, executive vice president of Three Rivers.

The college had sought more than $25,000 in damages after being evicted from Southeast's Bootheel centers, where the institutions worked as partners. The Daily American Republic reported the Poplar Bluff, Mo.-based community college spent about $50,000 in legal fees.

Information on how much Southeast spent on lawyers was not available Wednesday.

Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins said he was "very pleased" the case was dismissed. "We need to focus on providing access to quality higher education instead of being in the courts," he said.

The decision to drop the lawsuit comes amid several significant changes in leadership and staff reports of turmoil at Three Rivers.

Earlier this month, the board fired Three Rivers president Dr. John Cooper. In April, L. Joe Scott resigned as attorney for the board of trustees and two board members were not re-elected. That same month, a staff survey leaked to the Dexter Daily Statesman indicated low staff morale and staff reports of intimidation by administration.

Kimbrow said the college is "ready to start a new future" and that ending the lawsuit was "in the best interest of students, the college and taxpayers."

Three Rivers sued Southeast in June 2005 after Southeast evicted Three Rivers from centers in Sikeston, Malden and Kennett. Southeast reported it was losing money from its Bootheel centers while Three Rivers was making money. After eviction Three Rivers sued, claiming a breach of contract.

The dispute escalated when Three Rivers opened its own centers in each of the three locations, creating a competition for students. However, a 2007 report by the Missouri Department of Higher Education said the rival centers "do not constitute inefficient use of funds."

In fiscal year 2007, Southeast spent $3.1 million operating the centers and brought in $2.7 million in revenue. While the university is still losing money on the regional campuses, Dobbins said the loss margin is decreasing. The university lost $1.1 million in fiscal year 2005, and $762,686 in fiscal year 2006. The goal is to break even, Dobbins said.

Three Rivers is already making money. In 2007, the college spent $696,212 and made $951,134. Enrollment increased from 266 students to 344.

Southeast's enrollment was flatter, increasing from 671 students to 675 between 2006 and 2007, according to a December report from the state's higher education department.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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