Board of community college declares financial emergency

All affected community and technical colleges.
All affected community and technical colleges. Photo Courtesy of

On September 15, The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) met in Olympia and declared a state of financial emergency for all community and technical colleges in the state because of excessive funding cuts.

This directly affects Bellevue College, as it is still governed by the legislative committee which makes decisions for community colleges, despite BC’s standing as a four-year college.

Laura Saunders, Interim President at BC, said in an e-mail sent out on September 18, “The devastating effects of the reductions since 2008 have hit our campus community hard. … With only $163 million left in state reserves, we can anticipate another budget reduction mandate in our current fiscal period.”

Saunders was correct. The governor had previously requested that all state-funded agencies prepare a plan for a five to ten percent budget cut – for BC, between $1.25 million and $2.5 million. The reality of the issue is far worse. BC will be enduring a 23 percent budget cut, immediately after the 12 percent budget cut earlier this year, totaling a budget 35 percent smaller than last fall.

In another email sent out on September 22, Saunders announced the funding cuts and said that all hiring must be approved by her, effective immediately, in an attempt to cope with this new budget reduction. A special session of the Planning Council will meet tomorrow to decide further action.

Financial emergency gives community and technical colleges powers over their own budget and ways to conserve money, most notably expediting the layoffs of tenured and tenure-track professors. Since BC is still subject to the CTC, it will be given these powers as well.

The state legislature has a standard of financial conditions that must be met for the CTC to declare an emergency; this is the first time since June of 2009 that the community college system’s funding was cut by enough to warrant such an action.

This issue was discussed at the June 2011 board meeting, but was tabled in favor of watching the economy and waiting for the state financial situation to pick up. Considering the state falling $1.4 billion short in expected revenue, and the 22 percent budget cuts since the last financial crisis, the committee decided to declare financial emergency as it was obvious that the situation wasn’t improving.

At the meeting held in Olympia, the decision was unanimous except for one absentee. A main topic of discussion was the conflict between record-breaking budget cuts and record-breaking attendance, as a skilled workforce would, in time, improve Washington’s economy. Such a large class needs teachers to train them. In the end, however, the declaration of financial crisis was necessary.

CTC board chair Sharon Fairchild said, “These are extraordinarily challenging times, requiring us to make many difficult decisions, including this one.”

Fairchild recommended a collaborative style of decision-making between faculty, staff, and students when dealing with the budget cuts at local colleges.

Countering the declaration of emergency, a new tuition waiver was created at this meeting as well. Earlier this year, as part of a cost-saving decision, the Running Start program was limited to a total of 1.2 FTE, or fifteen full-time credits. Anything above that had to be paid for. At this meeting the legislative committee voted to waive the fees of low-income students so that the privilege of taking more than fifteen credits would not be available only to those who could pay for it.

Even in times of literal financial crisis, fairness and equality is still of utmost importance to the state legislature

This emergency will end when the budget allocated to community and local colleges has been brought back up above the state standard.