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* State board's Earl calls for 'unified approach' to budget crisis

While he says it is still uncertain just what will happen with state's budget, Charlie Earl, Executive Director for the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, says whatever it is won't be good and that the system should take a "unified approach."


Earl outlined his thoughts in an e-mail (see below) to presidents and chancellors on Nov. 24, 2010.


Shoreline President Lee Lambert said he agrees with Earl, adding that the approach must also look at new ways to accomplish the critical mission of community and technical colleges.


"It is pretty clear that there won't be enough money to continue doing everything the system does to the same level in the same way," Lamber said. "We need to take a fresh look.

In his letter, Earl said:


The November 18 state revenue forecast took an unexpectedly large turn for the worse in projected revenues for the next couple of years.  It’s still uncertain how the Governor and OFM will approach the associated budget reductions.  This message reflects what we know as of today.


The Governor said in her message to state employees that this forecast will mean an additional general fund cut of 4.6 percent this year. She indicated an across-the-board cut is simply not workable on top of the 6.3 percent September reduction.  She wants the Legislature to act quickly—either through a special session or very early in the regular session.


The uncertainty across state government of how this will be handled is compounded for higher education by the Governor’s and Legislature’s treatment of the federal maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement for receiving Recovery Act (ARRA) funds.  While the OFM director continues to indicate that cuts to higher education are limited by the federal MOE, given the state’s weak fiscal circumstances, it’s possible that budget writers will look for a way around the federal requirement.  However, the final cut numbers will not be known until the Legislature passes a supplemental budget.


Last week’s forecast brought the total 2011-13 biennium general fund deficit to $5.7 billion.  Our rough calculation is this means an additional 18 percent cut to our system next year if we take a proportional share.  (To put that in perspective, the $127 million cuts we’ve taken over the last two years—excluding the September 6.3 percent cut—is 16 percent of our annual budget prior to cuts.  An additional 18 percent cut would be slightly more than all the cuts we’ve taken over the past two years).  There also remains the possibility that higher education will take a larger proportion of next biennium’s reduction due to the competition for general fund resources.


The state’s capital budget outlook is also grim.  OFM has indicated the capital budget has been virtually eliminated due to decreases in state bond capacity. They are looking for ways to increase bond capacity, but it appears there will be very little funding for capital projects supported by general obligation bonds.


In short, the implications of last week’s forecast are severe.  Total state funding cuts to our system may amount to 35 percent since FY 2009.   While we know you’ll be forced, yet again, to reduce personnel costs, adjust enrollment levels, and differentiate major program mix to optimize students’ needs with significantly reduced state resources, those traditional means of managing resources may no longer be enough.  Tuition and financial aid increases may mitigate some of “the bite,” but these have limitations as well.


The financial crisis is triggering serious discussions among influential legislators about the shape and make-up of the community and technical college system. We anticipate proposals for reducing costs and increasing efficiencies across all of state government, including our 34 colleges.  As a system, we must be prepared with clear, unified ideas for improving cost effectiveness.  We need to shape our system’s future, providing certainty and cost efficiencies and actually making appropriate changes now.  More than ever, it’s important we do this together.


The SBCTC meeting on December 1-2 and the WACTC meeting on December 15 are key forums for advancing a unified approach.  Our staff will timely inform you about proposals affecting higher education, rumored or otherwise.   I ask the same of you.


You and your staff members have performed so admirably in serving students and serving them well these last two years.  While I realize it’s simply not possible to provide the same level of service as budgets continue to decline, I want you and your colleagues to know that the continued commitment to your students and your communities remains clear and is appreciated.  Please express this appreciation to your tremendously creative and dedicated faculty and staff.


Thank you.


Charles N. Earl

Executive Director


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