Instructor dismantles board budget proposal

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Adrienne Mitchell

Instructor, Academic Learning Skills, and budget sub-committee appointee, Lane Community College

 

Dear Board of Education and Budget Committee members,

I’m writing regarding your recent decision to adopt the Administration’s 2017-2018 budget with all program and service cuts as proposed and to respectfully request that you work directly with the faculty and stakeholder groups to make the most well-informed decisions.

The Association’s role in advocacy is by no means limited to jobs. We deeply care about this college, and we believe that these program and service cuts jeopardize our very mission, reducing options for students, the deleterious effects of which are already rippling through the college and community.

In addition, we remain steadfast in our belief that cutting the programs will only exacerbate the budget deficit and downward spiral of enrollment.

How much does the College project saving as a result of the cuts?

Setting aside the question of lost revenue, the College projects saving a total of only $602,800 by eliminating or reducing Counseling, Early Childhood Education, Geographic Information Systems, and Respiratory Care. This amounts to little more than 5% of the projected $10.6 million dollar general fund deficit and less than seven tenths of one percent of the general fund budget of $87 million, and less than three tenths of one percent of the total annual budget of all funds of $218 million. The projected savings have been reduced dramatically due to the fact that most faculty members in affected programs will not be retrenched and will be reassigned instead, which will lead to significant impacts on part-time faculty and only make the other programs to which the reassigned faculty members more ‘expensive.’ (See attached file.)

Is it worth the social cost? Is it worth $602,800 when the net impact on the budget, after potential decreases to enrollment and tuition revenue, is in question? And shouldn’t we keep positions that generate revenue like the grants manager who researches, applies for, and provides funding options in a time of crisis as well?

What about the College’s excellent accounting practices?  How does this differ from budgeting?

I agree that the College has excellent accounting practices. The College Finance staff are highly qualified, and the College receives awards and demonstrates accounting practices that fall within one half of one percent of actuals. We should all commend the Finance department for such accuracy.

However, accounting for actual expenses is what takes place during and after a fiscal year. What is in question in this case is not accounting practices but the budgeting and projecting for next fiscal year.

What is our track record, as a college, in projecting revenue? It varies widely from year to year. For the three most recent fiscal years, actual tuition revenues have differed from tuition revenue projections, by 0.7% to 8.1%, with two of those years with revenue below projections and one above. (See attached file.)

What are some alternative means to save the $602,800 that the College Administration projects from making these program and service cuts?

The Budget Development Subcommittee presented a ‘Majority Proposal’ supported by students, staff, and faculty, yet the committee was admonished by some Board members and Administrators for not working quickly enough or early enough despite meeting no less than 17 times so far this year. In addition, the vast majority of line items and amounts in the majority proposal are exactly the same as those in the Administration budget. Furthermore, the majority of the very few line items that do differ and which would help balance the budget through increased revenue or expense reductions, range in amounts of only $25 – 50 thousand and have been a part of BDS Subcommittee proposals and discussions since early March or before, such as the college-wide waitlist, collaborative part-time assignments, potential z-degree revenue, or modest increases in Fund VI contributions to the general fund. These are not new or fanciful ideas, and the amounts attributed to them in the BDS Majority proposal are conservative. In fact, I presented several of them to you, the Board, in my public comment in March with detailed hard copy spreadsheets provided for each one presented.

Even if we ignore the Budget Development Subcommittee Majority proposal, would it be possible to save $602,800 in other ways?

Of course. Here are just a few options:

The Administration could have bargained with the Association; the Association made an official proposal for a Memorandum of Agreement that would obviate hiring new part-time faculty who do not already work at the College, allowing existing part-time faculty to teach an additional class each year at part-time salary rates. Even if enrollment remains stagnant, there will be a need to hire part-time faculty due to a variety of factors including a decrease of approximately 7% in contracted faculty FTE next year, which will result in needed backfill by part-time faculty, additional retirements among part-time faculty, and other ‘natural’ attrition resulting from voluntary separations, medical leaves, etc. Savings from such an MOA are real, as evidenced by the similar multi-year MOA that was in effect for the fiscal benefit of the college from 2009-2015. Maximizing assignments to existing part-time faculty obviates hiring new faculty members who do not already work at LCC and who would become eligible for insurance benefits of $8,000 to $13,000 each.

OR

Re-open the separation incentive program for faculty and count the savings from additional retirements or separations, which result in recurring expense reductions, toward meeting the $602,800 gap. It would only take 4.5 contracted faculty FTE separations.

OR

Maintain an additional 4.5 contracted faculty positions vacant.

OR

Maintain 4.0 of the 8.5 vacant manager positions open.

OR

Combine elements of the BDS Majority proposal with the above items. Clearly, there are hard dollars to be saved, and $602,800 is negligible within the context of the entire budget.

I do not advocate for a specific solution from the above but note them simply to illustrate a variety of possibilities. The choices were many.

The faculty remain dedicated.

We are Norma Driscoll, the Respiratory Care Program Coordinator whose program will be eliminated despite evidence about successful job placements, job demand, inadvertent reductions to differential fees, incorrect initial revenue calculations, etc. We are Jeffrey Borrowdale, the Philosophy instructor who will be fired in order to be replaced by part-time faculty not yet hired in different disciplines. We are the numerous part-time faculty who will find themselves without a job, largely in programs not slated for reduction. We are the faculty who care about the Multicultural Center and who have been provided an “option,” but no guarantee, of filling a faculty position. We are the faculty throughout the college whose workload may be impacted or otherwise changed in as yet unidentified ways, as provided in the approved budget.

We are the entire body of faculty who have made sacrifices to our insurance benefits, saving approximately $700K for the College each year. We are the faculty college-wide who have accepted additional students into our classes, sustaining increased workloads since 2014, producing more than $1 million in savings annually.

We will continue to dedicate our lives to the success of our individual students. We will continue to innovate, redesign, develop as professional scholars, teachers and leaders in our fields both on and off campus, critically evaluate and modify our programs, convert our courses to open educational resources and online formats, do our part to maintain accreditation, and more.

We will continue to advocate for our students, for the equity and social justice mission of the community college, for maintaining our programs and services such that the fundamental role of the community college in a vibrant democracy is not undermined.

We will teach. We will speak. We will raise important questions. We will provide analyses. We will advocate. For our students, for our college, for academic integrity, for fiscal sustainability and for our mission.

The faculty remain. We are the backbone of Lane Community College. And the backbone does not stand alone – we are most grateful for the multitudinous staff, managers, and students who have stood in solidarity with us, who have signed statements in opposition to the cuts and the premises on which they are based, and who have had the courage to speak publicly.

When will you, Board of Education and Budget Committee members, work directly with us to make better choices?

Most Sincerely,

Adrienne

P.S. I revised this yesterday afternoon having just returned, proudly wearing my blue Lane Titans Track and Field t-shirt, from a hike where I ran into a former student on the trail, one of the very same students who came to speak to the Board at the February meeting and moved some to tears with her story of transformation in developmental- and transfer-level classes at Lane.

I agree with our Board Chair as quoted on Wednesday night that, “We all touch students.” And many of us have the great privilege of being moved and inspired by them in return.

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