CHEYENNE – Facing a state directive to cut a significant portion of next year’s budget, the Laramie County Community College Board of Trustees voted Wednesday night to cut $3.9 million of its general budget.
Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Gordon directed all state agencies – including community colleges – to cut their budgets by 10%. Then, on Monday, Gordon directed all of the state’s seven community colleges to prepare for an additional 4.7% reduction to state aid, but the Wyoming Legislature will have the final approval of that during the upcoming legislative session.
The $3.9 million in cuts LCCC approved Wednesday represents the college’s anticipation of balancing a roughly 15% reduction to its state aid block grant in Fiscal Year 2022.
Not only did the board unanimously approve the budget reductions, but the Faculty Senate, Staff Senate and Student Government Association also made known their support for the plan during Wednesday night’s virtual meeting.
The budget cuts approved Wednesday will include the elimination of 28 of 383 total positions at the college – 11 of those 28 jobs are currently occupied. Those employees will hold their jobs through Dec. 31 of this year and will receive a separation package from the college. Under the plan, the college will reconfigure five of those 11 positions and rehire them, but not necessarily with the same people who are about to lose their jobs.
“When we’re rehiring five positions to RIF (reduction in force) 11, it’s something I cannot answer,” Board Chair Jess Ketcham said. “I can’t figure out why at a college level we cannot retrain these individuals that are in these positions right now to keep them in their positions to do the job of a reorganization. We’re in the middle of a financial crisis and COVID. I don’t think it (looks) good on us to RIF these employees based on that.”
Ketcham proposed an amendment to only lay off six employees and let the other five keep their jobs, but it failed after LCCC President Joe Schaffer and the college’s legal counsel, Tara Nethercott, explained that it would potentially violate human resources policies and disrupt the college’s competitive hiring processes.
“Theoretically, if everything worked out, could we choose one employee or two employees to stay and then reconfigure their jobs and put them on a training path and hope they can perform (in the new role)? In theory, yes,” Schaffer said, noting his appreciation for Ketcham’s people-centered concerns.
“In reality, I think there’s incredible complexities in doing that. It also challenges our historical practices for how we’ve handled the management of new jobs and competitive job searches. I fear it could put employees on a path where they can’t be successful.”
A total of eight faculty positions, including those in art, anthropology and Spanish, will be eliminated. That equates to a 6.1% reduction in the college’s faculty workforce. Managerial, professional and classified positions also saw reductions. The college also reduced the adjunct faculty budget for both the Cheyenne and Albany County campuses by $250,000.
However, none of the college’s 20 administrative positions took a hit.
“I’ve had a lot of questions about whether or not we are reducing equitably. People ask me why there are not administrator reductions here,” said Schaffer, who presented to the board a graph which showed that since 2010, administrative positions have been reduced by about 26%.
Within the same timeframe, professional and managerial positions have increased by nearly 112%; faculty has increased by about 31%. Classified staff has been reduced by about 39%, but Schaffer said that’s because many of those positions have been reclassified over the years.
“When folks ask me ‘Tell me why administrators don’t have any reductions,’ my response is simply that we reduced those early on in my tenure and have continued to try to reduce those over time. They represent the smallest classification of employees at the institution,” Schaffer said. “They ultimately are the lynchpins in ensuring that we are able to redistribute and focus the campus moving forward.”
An earlier budget cut proposal suggested that the college’s heavily subsidized Children’s Discovery Center – which is the only early childhood education center in Laramie County with National Association for the Education of Young Children accreditation – eliminate its offerings for infants and toddlers. But parent backlash over the past two weeks pushed the college to revise that plan.
Wednesday night, the college approved a plan to reduce the cost of the center’s direct subsidies by $144,687, but not eliminate infant and toddler instruction. Instead, the college will work with parents to explore new funding options, which could include raising tuition prices or shifting classroom programming.
“We are raising tuition across all of the classrooms, and it varies. … Those raises in tuition will take us just at or below the benchmarks in the marketplace. We’ve been quite a way under those in the past,” said Rick Johnson, vice president of administration and finance. He added that the college has not yet decided on new tuition rates for students and parents who use the center, but might keep the rates the same. “(Tuition hikes) may be painful for some families, but we may be able to raise some scholarship streams to help underprivileged parents.”
In a memo Schaffer sent out to the board Wednesday morning, he stressed that this $3.9 million in cuts will likely not be the only round of budget reductions coming in the near future.
“I must be clear,” Schaffer wrote, “that while our proposed reductions in this plan have been made with surgical precision to minimize structural impacts to LCCC, further reductions may necessitate far more drastic changes to what we do and provide.”