BCC may lose $6.7 million in funds

By Elizabeth Ballinger.
BCC may face up to $6.7 million in state budget cuts over the next two years. In response to a report issued last week by the Washington State Economic Forecast Council, the state’s Office of Financial Management (OFM) recommended state community colleges and universities gear up now to make cuts of up to 20 percent for the 2009-11 budget period, or biennium. The budget reduction is expected to increase over September’s projection of $838,000, but Vice President of Administrative Services Laura Saunders, in her Nov. 20 press release to the college, said this number is yet unknown. Governor Chris Gregoire has yet to confirm dollar amounts on next year’s higher education cuts. She is expected to do so in December, when her office issues a first draft of the official state budget. The draft will also give institutions a clearer idea of what to expect for this year’s last-minute cuts. “We are stunned by the uncertainty that exists,” said Jean Floten, BCC President. The college won’t be able to make specific decisions about where to trim spending, said Floten, until a ballpark target is communicated next month. BCC administration’s Planning Council is continuing to research ways for the college to increase revenue and distribute spending cuts that will carry over to the next biennium. While adjusting to the likelihood of a multi-million dollar setback, Floten said the council is essentially on schedule to produce their January recommendations to the president’s staff. “We are considering moving to more self-support programs to make us less dependant on state funding,” said Floten. A tuition increase of up to 7% is being considered, said Saunders. This would add an additional $1.2 million in self-support revenue. Sustainable spending cuts, said Floten will take more time to develop and will be more difficult than quick fixes. “Several faculty members have volunteered to take 20 percent pay cuts,” she said. “That might sound possible for one year, or two, but that’s not a long-term solution.” Determining which departments and programs are most essential to the functioning of the college, Floten said, will be an unpleasant yet necessary task for the administration. Taking 20 percent equally across the board isn’t a realistic option because it would completely shut down many smaller offices. A cut of this size would require cutting jobs, said Saunders. When 86 percent of the college’s budget pays for faculty, cutting the budget by so large a chunk cannot be done without affecting staffing.
Part-time faculty may be most vulnerable to the possibility of job loss. Full-time faculty members have contractual agreements that protect them from unexpected job loss. Adjunct faculty, however, are hired on a quarterly basis, and their positions are much less secure.”Some part-time faculty are worried about losing benefits for their children,” said Louis Watanabe, with BCC’s Association of Higher Education (BCCAHE) Executive Council. If adjunct faculty are placed below a required credit hour teaching benchmark, they are no longer eligible for health benefits. Students interests are directly damaged by loss of student service administrators and instructors, said Watanabe. Dramatically increased class sizes, and unavailabilty or elimination of class offerings, he said, would interfere with student learning. The BCCAHE will meet with the president next week to discuss the long-term outlook on jobs, and on staffing for winter and spring quarters. Freezing open positions, eliminating most travel expenses, and reclaiming salary savings from vacated positions are immediate steps the administration has taken to prepare for the growing budget slice. A budget meeting Dec. 4 will be held to update the campus on the college’s current financial status and what to expect in coming months.