ROCK SPRINGS – Students, teachers, graduates and other Western Wyoming Community College supporters pleaded for fair and considerate cuts as the college looks to make up to $1.81 million in reductions during the current 2020-21 school year.
The Board of Trustees approved a financial emergency declaration during a virtual meeting on Thursday night, which directed the college administration to prepare budget cuts. Prior to the unanimous vote, Western President Kim Dale explained the college was asked to make a 10% cut in its budget in June, which was after it already had prepared a draft 2020-21 budget. Since the college passed a revised budget in July, additional state funding cuts have been announced.
With the passage of the declaration, the college president’s cabinet will work to make $875,000 worth of cuts from the general fund and identify another $935,000 to be made in case of additional reductions in revenue.
THE COMMUNITY CAMPAIGNS FOR ITS COLLEGE
Everyone who spoke up during public comments was granted the opportunity to address the board. All of them voiced concerns about the future of the staff and the college as a whole.
Grady Hutcherson, president of the Wyoming Education Association, spoke first and set the tone as he called for thoughtful decisions and consideration of the consequences. He encouraged the college leadership to take the time that is needed to gather feedback and make smarter decisions.
Associate Professor of Anthropology and Geology Dana L. Pertermann talked about the high stakes that concern her. She said her intent was to put a face on the cuts that otherwise remain numbers.
Pertermann said her husband has been diagnosed with two kinds of cancer, and she has a degenerative disease herself, which is why her family depends on her paychecks and medical insurance coverage. She said the possibility of losing her position and benefits frightens her.
She noted the timing issue that particularly impacts those in academia, where work centers around the school calendar. Most new hires or contract signings take place in the late summer or fall before a new school year starts, according to Pertermann and others who spoke at the meeting. She said if she loses her job at the end of December, she might have to wait six or eight months to get another job in her field, if not longer.
“This is the real impact of what we’re looking at. My family is the real impact of what we’re looking at,” she said.
She said, like many staff members, she’s an out-of-stater who wouldn’t have as many local resources like family to draw upon if her job was lost, so they would have to move away immediately.
“All the family I have here at Western is my Western family,” Pertermann said.
Ryan Desmond, a three-year student, said he was torn between selecting a university of community college, and that he went with Western because it provided him with more intimate classes and more opportunities, such as doing research or being published as a freshman or sophomore.
“Think of your students,” he told the board.
He added every program that gets cut lowers the standard of education at the college and reduces what students will get out of Western. He said if you cut enough stuff that makes the college unique, people will be more like to go to places like a four-year university.
Meghan Jensen, a Western alumna, said she felt blindsided by the college’s announcement that it was having financial difficulty. She asked the board to be communicative and make it clear what those in the community can do to help.
In the group chat, Janis Knadjian, a community member and a former educator at the public schools, said, “This state has had enough of a brain drain over the years. We need to do whatever it takes to keep the people we have. Let us know what we can do to keep our teachers here.”
She added she would support a county mill levy for the college, if that is possible.
Rosa Reyna-Pugh said the professors and other teachers are the face of the college. She says she still reaches out to some of them for advice.
Heather Pristash, an associate professor of composition at Western, said everyone is aware hard decisions have to be made, but some choices create more hardship than others. She called midyear job cuts “especially devastating” in education.
“If they are cut now, they will be unemployed until the start of the next school year,” she said. “That is crippling.”
She said ideally, no jobs would be last, but should that not be possible, it would be best to postpone them until the conclusion of the spring semester.
“Please consider all of the options,” she said.
Rock Springs Councilman Ryan Greene acknowledged the college board, like many entities, must make difficult decisions.
“It’s no secret we’re in troubled times,” he said.
With that said, he said the board and administration should exercise every possible solution to limit harmful job cuts. He said the impact of those cuts would echo beyond the campus and strike the city as a whole.
They’re our neighbors and friends and little league coaches, he said, which is why he encouraged everyone to put the thought that necessary into this to do what’s best for everyone involved.
Board President Regina Clark thanked the people who attended, noting that had they hosted the meeting in person, they would not have had enough space in the normal meeting room.
She said the college forms a hub for the community, and they don’t want to lose this.
“I just want the public to know we have been looking at this for a very long time,” she said, as it impacts people lives and the cuts represent more than just numbers.
Trustee George Eckman said the college has faced many financial crises, but this one is exceptional and funding options are limited. He noted the legislative appropriations committee debated seven options to make up state revenue and declined to recommend any to the full State Legislature.
“They’re going to live with the lack of revenue,” he said.
He encouraged people to contact their state representatives and let them know the college is in a bind and needs more help. He questioned what was more important than educating future generations.
Trustee Greg Erramouspe said echoed Eckman’s comments.
“We have to be concerned about the future of this college,” he said. “If we want it to be strong, we can’t be weak right now.”
He said the board is sympathetic to the ones who might suffer, but its just a harsh reality.
LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS
Dale said they have been warned to prepare for cuts that may be retroactive and cost them funding that had already been promised.
In an email to the Rocket Miner, Dale elaborated that the college has three sources of revenue: state appropriations through the Wyoming Community College District, local taxes and tuition and fees.
“We have very little control over any of these sources of revenue. These cuts have been mandated by the Governor’s Office, and all state agencies are feeling the pain,” she said.
In the meeting agenda, the college noted that Wyoming’s government facing a $1.5 billion shortfall due to decreases in income from extraction industries including coal, oil and natural gas; and the depressed economy following the emergence of COVID-19.
On a more positive point, it was noted Thursday that enrollment figures remain flat compared to last year.
Dale said that though enrollment had been lower than usual over the summer, it had recently rebounded to about the rate it had been last fall, which she called much better than the state average of being down 9%. She credited the enrollment with a change in payment policies, an increase in concurrent enrollment, the state providing $50 million for tuition money for Wyoming residents, and the work of college staff. Dale said Western’s financial aid people have been working night and day to get this money awarded to students.
REASON BEHIND THE RUBRICS
Dale said they have been preparing their decision making process for months
“Instead of a quick July 1 decision by the (president’s) cabinet and the board, the college decided to involve a wide variety of stakeholders and create task forces to develop fair and impartial rubrics to help determine these cuts,” she said. “This is not a selection of people or programs, this is an evaluation of what has a direct impact on enrollment and student success and what is in demand for careers. This work has been done, and now the decisions need to be made. We were very thoughtful and intentional to include relevant stakeholders, representing a variety of perspectives.”
She declined to share all of the names of the staff who prepared the rubrics the college will use to make cuts.
“What I think is relevant are the functional areas that were represented to get a variety of viewpoints and perspectives,” Dale said.
She said the Academic Program Efficiency Rubric Task Force featured five full-time faculty members and a division chair from each of the five divisions, which includes business and industry, health sciences, humanities, math and science and social sciences and education. This team was led by Vice President of Student Learning Cliff Wittstruck, and Associate Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness Mark Rembacz provided research and data.
The president said the Non-Academic Department Efficiency Rubric Task Force featured representation from the Senate (which includes both faculty and professional staff), the chair and vice chair from the Para-Professional Alliance, human resources, student services, Green River Center/community education, and outreach. This team was led by Vice President of Administration Burt Reynolds and AVP of Institutional Effectiveness Rembacz provided research and data.
President Dale declined to give a specific timeline for the cuts made and identified by the president’s cabinet. She said additional information, as appropriate, will be shared with the college, subsequent to the board’s decisions.
Separate from Western’s deliberations, Dale is part of the group that is working on sustainable funding for Wyoming’s community colleges. The State Constitution details funding for K-12 schools and UW, but not community colleges.
Dale said two task forces have been formed — one through the Wyoming Community College District and one legislative Select Committee to analyze community college sustainable funding options.
“I encourage our public to talk to their local legislators about the importance of funding Western and the positive impacts we have on the lives of our students, communities and the state of Wyoming,” she said.
To conclude, Dr. Dale said, “please know that Western’s Board of Trustees and president’s cabinet is being extremely thoughtful about the outcomes associated with these decisions. We deeply care about our faculty, staff, students and communities and do not take this responsibility lightly. We hope that Western’s community recognizes that our approach to decision-making is thoughtful and sensitive to maintaining dignity and respect for all of our employees.”