If there is a silver lining to the dark budget clouds that gathered Wednesday, Nov. 26, at a special Shoreline Community College Board of Trustees meeting, it is that college officials have already planned for the immediate financial challenge facing the college.
SCC President Lee Lambert told the trustees that the college has been given a new budget-reduction target for the current year of $1.044 million. “The good news is that we anticipated this trend,” Lambert said. “We had already planned on how to get to higher number, $1.25 million.”
Lambert learned of the $1.044 million target after a Nov. 25 meeting in Olympia with the other college presidents and staff from the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. SBCTC received a systemwide reduction from the state Office of Financial Management (OFM) following a Nov. 25 announcement by Gov. Chris Gregoire that another $260 million must be cut from the overall state budget.
A steadily worsening state economy has made the budget reduction has been a moving target. In August, SCC’s goal was around $220,000. That became $594,000 in October and now Tuesday’s number.
SCC Budget Director Holly Woodmansee gave the trustees an outline of how the college would achieve the $1.044 million cuts for this year, primarily through presently unfilled positions, cutting discretionary spending and percentage reductions in current budgets. “No employees would be losing their jobs in this current budget review,” Woodmansee said.
The clouds got darker when the meeting tried to peer at all the variables that might impact the 2009-10 budget.
Besides getting immediate cut targets, presidents at the Olympia meeting were also directed to start planning for a 20 percent budget cut for the coming two years.
“As it stands now, the state is looking at $6 billion problem for the next biennium,” Lambert told the trustees. “If you took all of (higher education) offline, it doesn’t address that problem.”
While no one is contemplating doing away with all of higher education, Lambert said the impact of a 20 percent cut statewide would be huge. “Our base operating budget is about $25 million, so 20 percent is $5 million for us,” he said. “This would not be the same college anymore. Not just Shoreline Community College, every college in the state.”
While the present directive from OFM doesn’t address the question of enrollment levels, Lambert said he believes they would have to be reduced under such a drastic budget cut.
“(Twenty percent) represents a decrease in student allotment of 1,300 of 1,350 FTEs (full-time equivalents),” Lambert told the trustees, noting the college is now allotted just under 5,200 FTEs. “Basically, we could be rebased below 4,000 FTEs.”
Because of legislative session timing, Lambert said he’s worried that a final state budget and the attendant targets for SCC might not be available in time to make the necessary changes to achieve a 20 percent cut, saying, “Some have speculated it could be as late as June.”
“The problem is, if we don’t start soon, we can’t get there,” Lambert said. “I think we have to plan for layoffs starting in the middle of Winter Quarter. We can always recall people, but we can’t cut a program once it starts.”
Board President Shoubee Liaw asked why, if the college had already found ways to trim $1 million, might such action be necessary.
“Because we can’t go into next year with the current infrastructure and meet a $5 million cut,” Lambert said.
A comment by Trustee Jerry Smith seemed to sum up the issues at hand. “(The goal) is to save the institution,” Smith said. “The question is, what that institution will look like. It won’t be the same institution.”
After the trustees meeting, Lambert hosted a brown bag lunch discussion in the PUB Quiet Dining Room. Lambert presented the same information as in the trustees meeting, fielding questions and receiving suggestions from employees.
Among the points raised, Lambert told the lunch group that he thinks:
- An emergency declaration from Gov. Gregoire is unlikely.
- Consolidation of colleges might be in the system’s future, but that would take time and work and probably not an immediate answer. Lambert did say he meeting next week with neighboring college presidents to discuss budget-related issues.
- Eliminating Summer Quarter might be possible, but it may also be needed to meet whatever FTE level is mandated by the state.
- The initial cost of faculty tenure buyout may now be too expensive, given the size of the potential cuts.
At the lunch gathering, Vice President of Academic Affairs John Backes implored faculty and all employees to stay focused on the mission of serving students. “Our message must be, ‘We are here for you. That’s what we do. That’s all we do.’”