Planning Council prepares for budget cuts

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On Wednesday, September 28th, the President’s Staff and the Bellevue College Planning Council met for a special session to discuss what is to be done about the newest 23 percent budget cuts given to BC.

The council had previously been advised by the governor to make plans for 5 – 10 percent budget cuts, but soon it became apparent to the state government that all community and technical colleges would be receiving funding cuts of at least 10 percent. However, the shocking loss of 23 percent of BC’s state funding was still a heavy impact.

Interim President Laura Saunders said, “The state is against eliminating a campus, but 23 percent is huge.”

The budget cuts were given out in order to close a $2 billion debt gap encurred by the state when tax revenues failed to bring in the amount necessary to pay for a spending plan approved earlier this June.

However, a November forecast of the state revenue shortfall is predicted to rise up even more. Some legislators are in favor of a revenue package, giving across the board cuts to all institutions. If this package goes through, BC would be looking at an even higher budget reduction of 30 percent.

If a budget reduction of that magnitude were to occur, the detriment to community colleges would be correspondingly worse. The Planning Committee was discussing this as a viable possibility and hoping to plan for this in the event of such an emergency.

At the meeting, no rash decisions were made about how to deal with these cuts; such decisions are put forth as recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

At this meeting, as well as the meetings in the remainder of October, the main item on the agenda was strategizing. It was pointed out by one of the attendees that no easy cuts remain after the significant budget cuts since 2008.

At BC’s current level of state funding, 23 percent is a $4 million loss. If the worst case sceneario does happen and BC suffers a 30 percent budget cut, it would be considerably over $5 million.

In order to make up the difference left by these draconian reductions, the Planning Council has two baseline choices: They can either Increase revenues or they can  decrease spending.

The ideas discussed at the meeting for increasing revenue were primarily centered around raising tuition, increasing excess enrollment, reworking International contracts, creating more Running Start limitations, and various other fees necessary on a college campus, such as the new parking fee.

For decreasing spending, there were really only two options – across the board cuts or the deletion of specific programs and services.

No one at the meeting was happy with the idea of raising expenses of attendance, but it was recognized that it might be inevitable. “Another tuition increase is back on the table,” said Rachel Solemsaas, Vice President for Administrative Services. “It’s not under our control, it’s under the legislator’s.”

BC is still under the control of the board of legislatures that governs community colleges, so if a tuition increase is decided it will come from the state.

In order to display the true cost of cutting expenditures, a chart was displayed showing the monetary effects of across the board cuts for everyone on campus. For example, 9 percent of funding would be lost from instruction, 29 percent from workforce development, and 26 percent from the president’s office. Institutional advancement would suffer a 28 percent cut, and human resources a 25 percent reduction.

The Planning Committee has drafted a possible plan called Stage Three, named for the preceding stages in earlier budget cuts.

Part of this plan hopes to move funding for certain programs into a federally protected area, such as relocating parking officials to the fund given to the parking garages. With this portion of the plan, $275,307 could be saved.

Stage Three also looks at cuts by division – for instance, under this plan, the president’s office would reduce the contingency fund by $420,000, Student Services would cut goods and services provided to the King County area and identify specific programs that could be eliminated. Vacated positions wouldn’t be filled.

With many other school funded programs looking at similar cuts, the total savings from the Stage Three plan would be about $2 million, which would leave the College another $2 million short for the 23 percent budget cuts.

Solemsaas pointed out, “It’s not just the ongoing we need to address.” The goal of the plans drafted by the Council was to keep the school as accessible as possible to everyone and not allow the budget cuts to deeply affect the students.

With the enormous budget reductions looming, the Planning Council is working on ways to keep the College at its most functional. They are drafting ideas to present to the Board and will begin taking action later in October or early in November.