Medical School Missing Key Deadlines
by Sito Negron
Posted on March 20, 2006
Texas Tech is pushing up on some key deadlines, which include hiring enough faculty by mid-April to meet accreditation requirements.
“We would seat a class in late July, early August of 2008, (but) if we don’t have that funding within the next two to three months it would be impossible,” said Dr. Manny de la Rosa, El Paso regional dean of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. [tech timeline]
Tech is waiting for a $38 million appropriation supported by Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst but opposed by House Speaker Tom Craddick, who was blamed for killing it during the regular session. [eptimes june 2005] Craddick then was blamed for holding it up after Perry placed it on a supplemental list that must be approved by the Legislative Budget Board, a permanent 10-member subcommittee with broad budget powers. [board website] [texas finance report january 2006, pg.7]
It's unclear whether the Legislature will consider the funding, necessary for the long-term operation of the medical school, during the special session just called by Perry to deal with school finance. Observers think that's likely only if the session ends quickly with general consensus on school financing, allowing lawmakers to consider other items. [eptimes article on special session]
“We’re at this stage not going to see anything happen, notwithstanding our accreditation needs, until we get through this tax reform session.” said Woody Hunt, an El Paso business leader involved in the medical school and other state issues. [npt hunt interview]
Hunt said it's important to keep in mind that while the state approved about $85 million in funding for classroom and research buildings, funding an operating budget is a different type of commitment because it is an ongoing expense.
Over the years, Hunt said, “You’re essentially carving out a billion dollars in state resources.”
State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, who wrote a letter to Dewhurst Feb. 10 asking for the funding, said he doubted the money would come during the special session.
"There will be a drop dead date but we have some flexibility. We basically have to have these guys hired by the end of the year."
State Rep. Joe Pickett said "we’re probably not going to make Tech's deadline, but I'm still confident it will happen. We got $85 million invested in buildings by the state of Texas."
He said he thinks there is support for the project statewide.
"My colleagues (in the Legislature) are not negative … their point was the building in El Paso is not completed. A lot of my colleagues felt, come see us when the buildings are completed. I think we’re going to have a better go in the regular session, which is not to say something won't happen in the meantime."
Requests for comment phoned and e-mailed to Craddick and Dewhurst were unanswered.
El Paso's medical school is one of two such projects in the state to be stalled by Craddick's opposition. The Irma Rangel Pharmacy School in Kingsville is seeking funding as well, and political, civic and business leaders are in an all-out effort to secure the money. [pharmacy update]
De la Rosa says that the setbacks in funding not only could delay the medical school, it could threaten its development because competitors are appearing.
“There's a lot of discussion at the chamber of commerce in Austin about setting up a school in conjunction with the University of Texas, Austin,” de la Rosa said. “We're the furthest along still but others are rapidly catching up.”
One way to add value to project is to remind the state that the medical school is part of a larger venture, most agreed.
“An investment on their part can show a significant impact to the state and the region. It’s an important part of the message to those who are making the decisions that this investment is part of a bigger vision,” Hunt said.
For example, Thomason Hospital, Tech's neighbor in South-Central El Paso, is expanding, and hoping to create a synergy with Tech's growth and other medical institutions in the area.
Jim Valenti, Thomason CEO, said his institution's recent approval to spend $120 million on upgrades means "we are moving forward. We think it sends a strong message to our leaders in Austin."
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Sito Negron can be reached at email@example.com
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