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The Western Wyoming Community College Board of Trustees approved a declaration of financial emergency during a virtual meeting on Thursday night, which could lead to up to $1.81 million in cuts — including programs and positions — in the current school year.

ROCK SPRINGS – As Western Wyoming Community College looks to reduce its general fund by $875,000 and prepare for another $935,000 in potential budget cuts, staff and community members have expressed concerns that the money will be made up by eliminating positions.

The college administration and board talked about the need for hard decisions during hard times during a virtual college board meeting Thursday.

Board President Regina Clark said, “I just want the public to know we have been looking at this for a very long time.”

She added they know cuts will impact people’s lives – staff, students, and the community – and represent more than mere numbers.

At the same time, some people wanted the board to consider the timing of and job eliminations.

Faculty member Heather Pristash said everyone is aware hard cuts must be made, but she said it is “crippling” when educators lose a job in the middle of a school year because it probably means they won’t be able to work in their chosen specialty field until the start of the next school year.

She said the likelihood of finding anything locally is nonexistent; even nationally, the odds would be low.

Under the college’s policies, Western “may discontinue any position because of a lack of enrollment, a lack of funds, a lack of work, or other events beyond the college’s control.”

Before laying off an employee, the college will first consider an internal transfer. If this alternative is not available or suitable, the college will give employees at least 90 calendar days written notice of the layoff.

The fall semester at Western ends Dec. 11, and the winter break is set for Dec. 15 through Jan. 14, 2021. The spring semester begins Jan. 25, 2021.

To give 90 days notice prior to Jan. 15, 2021, the decision must be communicated by Oct. 17.

Western President Kim Dale previously declined the Rocket Miner’s request for a timeline on the cut she and the president’s council are preparing.

The college board has a special meeting set for Oct. 8.

WHAT ABOUT PAY CUTS AND DEMOTIONS?

During public comments, members of the community, staff, and Wyoming Education Association encouraged the college leadership to consider every possible step to avoid mid-year layoffs, such as furloughs or salary cuts.

Trustee George Eckman said the pay cut recommendation cannot be done.

“We can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t have the ability to lower people’s salaries. … We’re stuck.”

Under the college policy on demotions, the college is allowed to make a “voluntary movement of an employee to a position in another class with a lower rate of pay.”

An employee may only be demoted at the employee’s request, the policy states. To complete such a move, the president, upon consultation with the appropriate college officer must recommend a demotion, and the Board of Trustees must approve it. Employees who chose a demotion will remain on the same step in the new pay range or on the closest step in that range.

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