NH House budget writers seek to slow pace of USNH-CCSNH merger

Measure would create commission to study consolidation first

Usnh Cccnh LogosLegislative budget writers have taken steps to temper Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposal to merge the University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of New Hampshire by proposing a commission that would be given six months to decide whether to go ahead with the consolidation before drafting legislation to implement it.

The merger, as prescribed by House Bill 2, the companion to the budget, would begin by folding the boards of trustees of the two systems into one on July 1, 2021, and charging the unified board with introducing legislation by January 1, 2022 to complete the consolidation by July 1, 2023.

The plan and its aggressive timeline aroused concern in several quarters, including among lawmakers, alumni and especially officials of the community college system. Susan Huard, interim chancellor of the system questioned the very notion of combining the two different systems while calling the timing “too fast, too soon.”

In response, Division II of the House Finance Committee, convened a working group, which identified a host of issues it recommended be addressed by commission before deciding whether or not to proceed with a merger.

The recommendation has been incorporated in an amendment to HB 2 sponsored by Rep. Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington, who said he worked with the governor’s office in preparing it. The effect of the amendment is to change the decision-making process without shortening the timeline.

It calls for forming a commission of 11 members, four appointed by USNH, including the chairman of the board of trustees and chief administrative officer, four appointed by CCSNH, including the chair of the board of trustees and CEO, and three appointed by the governor.

The commission would be charged to “explore, study and assess the potential for merging” the two systems “to determine if a unified system of public higher education is in all respects beneficial to the citizens of New Hampshire and if so, to provide legislation” for its implementation.

The commission would receive an appropriation of $1.5 million to support its work. if the commission determines a merger is “both prudent and necessary,” it would present legislation by Jan. 1, 2022, to accomplish it by July 1, 2023.

In other words, if the commission chooses to pursue a merger, the original timeline foreseen by the governor would remain intact.

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