CAPE GIRARDEAU — A dispute between Southeast Missouri State University and Three Rivers Community College over the operation of three Missouri Bootheel education centers could be decided by the state Coordinating Board for Higher Education.
Gregory Fitch, Missouri’s commissioner of higher education, said the board may try to resolve the dispute at its June 9 meeting in St. Joseph if the two schools still haven’t settled the matter.
Fitch is awaiting a counterproposal from Poplar Bluff-based Three Rivers to one he helped draft last month.
Southeast owns the centers in Sikeston, Malden and Kennett, and the two schools have both offered classes there. But Southeast said it was losing money in operating the centers. In February, Southeast said it would start teaching all the classes in the centers starting this summer, effectively kicking out Three Rivers.
Southeast’s Board of Regents in late March approved a proposal crafted by Fitch that would have renewed the partnership between the two schools.
Under the plan, Southeast and Three Rivers would have split costs equally. Three Rivers would teach 60 percent of the freshman- and sophomore-level courses at the centers. Southeast would teach the other 40 percent of lower-division courses and all upper-division courses.
But Three Rivers officials objected.
“Southeast would be teaching 70 percent of the classes,” said John Stanard, a member of the Three Rivers board of trustees. “In effect, they are asking us to pay half the expenses and teach 30 percent of the classes.”
Stanard said the Three Rivers board may offer a counter proposal to the commissioner following a meeting on May 18.
Three Rivers filed a lawsuit against Southeast last month, accusing the university of a breach of contract in canceling the partnership.
Southeast responded on April 8 by filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Three Rivers shouldn’t have gone to court when the administrative mediation process with state education officials hadn’t been completed.
Southeast officials believe that the Three Rivers’ board has deliberately been slow to respond to the commissioner’s request.
“I think it’s unconscionable,” university president Ken Dobbins said Wednesday.
The 60-40 split would allow the university to break even, Dobbins said.
Both schools plan to offer courses this summer and fall — Southeast at the higher education centers and Three Rivers in high schools around the region. Fitch said that’s a duplication of services, and it would be better if the two tax-funded institutions worked together.