ROCK SPRINGS – Reductions have already made an impact on Western Wyoming Community College this school year, and more are expected. Western reduced its budget by 19% before the Board of Trustees passed a $46.5 million budget for fiscal year 2020-21. At the next board meeting on Thursday, trustees will consider a declaration of financial emergency that could identify about $1.8 million in additional cuts. Meanwhile, an educators group is warning that 20 college employees are expected to be let go in the middle of the school year, and they are seeking support of the public and board to find alternative solutions.
“Coming layoffs are expected to result in the consolidation and discontinuation of existing degree pathways at Western. With the formal announcement coming by the end of this month, affected employees will have 90-days-notice, with positions being terminated at the end of the semester,” a statement from the Wyoming Education Association said.
The Education Association at WWCC, a local affiliate of the WEA that represents staff and faculty members of the college, is calling on the administration to explore every action to postpone layoffs until the end of the current academic year.
“Midyear layoffs will be financially devastating,” said Angela Thatcher, WWCC sociology professor and president of the Education Association at Western. She said their hope is to partner with the college and find solutions “to make these layoffs less devastating for employees, students, and the community, as well as for the college itself.”
Dr. Dana L. Pertermann is an associate professor who teaches anthropology and geology at the college.
“There are a lot of unknowns right now, and I don’t feel like college administrators have considered enough factors,” said Pertermann. “I understand that they’re having a budget crisis. But I don’t feel like the administration has pushed back enough at the state level.”
She said last year her husband was diagnosed with two different forms of cancer, so she now supports their family of four.
“This isn’t an academic pursuit,” Pertermann said, “this is real people’s lives. I own a home, I’ve lived here for eight years. I will not have the ability to find another job in this economy, in this location, probably even in this state.”
The association stated the vast majority of academic job openings begin in August at the start of the academic year, making it especially difficult for education employees to find positions in their field midyear.
“Because I’m in academe, I probably won’t be able to find a job until next fall,” Pertermann said. “I’m looking at a real possibility of not having a job from December 2020 to fall 2021.”
To save money and positions, the Education Association suggests alternatives to reductions such as temporary pay cuts for all employees making over a certain salary, voluntary, opt-in pay cuts, stipends for employees electing to leave employment at Western.
Wyoming Education Association President Grady Hutcherson is hopeful that the college will apply a holistic approach to balancing its books.
“If the only cuts to be made are programs, faculty, and staff,” said Hutcherson, “these will compound the budget crisis in following years as fewer students attend Western, furthering negative impact on the budget in the long run, and possibly even threatening the continued operation of one of our state’s valuable community colleges.”
For a full copy of the association’s statement, see rocketminer.com.
EMERGENCY DECLARATION ON AGENDA
The meeting proposal calls for a reduction of the general fund budget by $875,000 and a plan to cut an additional $935,000 “in the event there are further funding reductions/withdrawals by the state of Wyoming,” according to the meeting agenda.
The agenda stated, “The state of Wyoming is currently enduring an unprecedented economic crisis. Communications from the state indicate a $1.5 billion shortfall due to what some are calling a double ‘black swan’ event. The first ‘black swan’ event was the reduction of income from extraction industries including coal, oil and natural gas. The second ‘black swan’ event was the emergence of COVID-19.”
The declaration is meant to align Western with Gov. Mark Gordon’s mandate to reduce budgets by another 10%.
Before the start of the fall semester, the college announced it would eliminate jobs and degree pathways, though no specifics were given.
Areas the college plans to consider for budget reductions and efficiencies include:
— Organizational design
— Academic affairs
— Technology and IT support
— Facilities and auxiliary services
— Spending and contracts
The agenda noted that a declaration of a financial emergency is not an indication of financial exigency, or urgent need, a distinction recognized by the Higher Learning Commission.
Thursday’s video conference meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. with a workshop followed by the regular meeting at 7:15 p.m.
The meeting will include the opportunity for public comments.
“Please show the board that you care about these proposed layoffs,” Thatcher said. “Support us in showing the board that it’s worth their time and effort to explore alternative solutions to mid-year layoffs. ... Show them that you recognize that this goes so far beyond the walls of Western; this is about people’s friends, families, and neighbors, in addition to their livelihoods. Our community deserves better, and I believe that we can achieve better by working creatively together.”
To attend the virtual meeting of the Board of Trustees, visit http://bit.ly/wwcc410. The passcode is 561301. The agenda for the meeting is posted at https://go.boarddocs.com/wy/wwcc/Board.nsf/vpublic?open.