It was more than a full house at the Board of Education meeting on May 13. Lane administration limited the number of people allowed in the Boardroom to 68, saying that more would present a fire hazard.
A room in Building 2 was reserved for the overflow who watched the meeting via live feed. More congregated in the foyer leading into the Boardroom and outside the building itself. An estimated 120 people showed up to speak to the board or to hear budget decisions.
Approximately 50 people signed up to address the board. They were essentially divided into two groups based on the nature of their complaints. The first group was protesting about discrimination on campus. Most others were protesting program cuts.
Three Lane programs were put on the chopping block in April. The Electronics Technology program and the Automotive Collision and Refinishing program were axed at the May 13 meeting and the Medical Office Assistant program was given a one-year reprieve prior to the meeting.
Dominating the discussion about balancing the budget was the question as to whether the two programs should be cut, given the estimated saving of only $195,100. Added into the argument about the programs was their viability in the job market.
Jim Salt LCCEA president called the figure of $195,000 a fantasy created by the administration. Board members Matt Keating and Bob Ackerman questioned whether saving $195,000 was worth destroying two programs given the college deficit of 4.6 million dollars.
Lane Vice-president for College Services Brian Kelly said that the projected savings for the 2016-17 academic year forward, following a one-year teach-out for each program total $612,000. Salt maintained that the entire projection was based on faulty assumptions.
“It’s disturbing that a projected annual savings of a program of just under a $100,000 and the projected annual savings of another program of just under a $100,000 that we can’t find wiggle room to save said programs rather than have them go the way of the dodo,” Keating said.
Keating called for re-evaluation of the two programs as happened with the MOA program, which was not cut in this budget meeting based on student testimony and the need in the community to save and restructure the program.
He called the amount a drop in the bucket compared to the overall budget and urged that the programs to be made more competitive for the 21st century, rather than “have them on the chopping block.”
Board member Bob Ackerman asked the other board members to look at the social cost of cutting the programs, pointing to the negative impact on the careers of the students concerned.
Board member Gary LeClair expressed his concern over hearing conflicting information. He commented that employers had come before the board saying they desperately need graduates of the programs, but that the state of Oregon Employment Department sees a less than favorable future for those jobs.
“These are careers that start at $18-$19-$20 an hour. They are careers that are being interrupted here at Lane Community College,” Keating said. There are dozens more opportunities statewide he said, adding that he questioned the narrow lens through which the jobs are viewed.
It does not take into account independent employment, people who start their own business, people who come to Lane for their own edification, those who come to the college to retrain or people retiring who are creating job openings he said.
Keating said that the metric being used to determine job prospects should not be the only measure of the programs.
Board members Tony McCown, Sharon Stiles and LeClair reminded those present that the board had asked the administration to look at cutting programs as a way of balancing the budget.
Both Spilde and Vice President Dawn de Wolf assured board members that students who have started in either of the programs are being individually helped to finish the programs.
The argument is unfair and binary, Keating said. The board had been presented with the options of cutting programs or raising tuition. There are more than two options, he said, asking for creative solutions. “There other avenues we can take,” he said. “I don’t buy into the binary argument.”
After agreeing with everything said by Keating, board member Rosie Pryor commented that creative solutions have been exhausted “We have reached the end of that rope,” Pryor said.
Pryor motioned for the cuts to be approved. LeClair quickly seconded the motion. Conversations continued, however. Pryor commented on the fact that Lane has homeless students, saying that it is unacceptable.
She called for a halt to what she called the “unrelenting upward march of tuition.” She commented that the college has finally reached the point where it can no longer serve everyone.
“This is the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make,” said Stiles. She thanked everyone involved and commented that state funding isn’t going to get any better. Stiles acknowledged that the board is united in not wanting to raise tuition any further. She said that she knows of no other alternatives.
Chairman Pat Albright commented that Lane has cobbled together rails like those of a railroad track for years and that the college is about to be derailed.
Salt pointed out several factors about the budget, emphasizing that the administration has made assumptions and that there is strong disagreement between those he represents and the administration regarding financial projections.
The motion was raised again as to whether to approve the program cuts. Pryor, Stiles, Albright and McCown voted to cut the programs. Keating and Ackerman voted against the motion.
The motion passed.
Several speakers complained about the arrangement that kept interested parties out of the Boardroom and asked for a solution to that problem at future board meetings.
Closing remarks by administrators at the board table were dwarfed by Salt. He said that the college violates people’s rights, then made both commendations and criticisms to administrators and the board. He finished with what he called a severe criticism.
Regarding the program cuts he said “you made a decision that is based upon a pure assumption, a fiction that the college is going to hold onto these students and you asked for no evidence.”
He said that the administration made proposals to the board that a banker would not loan money on.
“There is no $612,000 savings next year, unless their assumption is right,” he said about the college expecting to not lose the revenue from students who would have enrolled in the cut programs. “What evidence do you have for that position?”
The worst thing about the decision, Salt said, is how dangerous it is, saying that it’s not just about the effects of what he called a mistake. He complained that the board did not allow for an empirical process and make a decision based on that.
“How can we representatives of faculty and staff and students have trust in you anymore?” he said. “How can we work with you?” … You’ve broken this college tonight,” he said.