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CGCC looks at staff cuts, other options

HOOD RIVER — So many people showed up for Tuesday’s college board special meeting that a scheduled class switched rooms to give the board and public more space.

The Dec. 2 special meeting on Columbia Gorge Community College budget issues drew about 75 people at the Hood River campus, including staff, students, parents, and state representatives John Huffman of The Dalles and Mark Johnson of Hood River.

No action was taken but board chairman M.D. Van Valkenburgh and President Frank Toda stated unequivocally that the Hood River campus, known as Indian Creek, would remain open.

Two weeks ago Toda presented a list of revenue and cost-cutting options that included keeping programs going in Hood River while closing the Indian Creek campus temporarily. Cuts in programs in The Dalles and Hood River are on the table, as well as staff reductions, to make up a projected $1.6 million deficit in 2015-17. Financial officer Will Norris said the college can no longer rely on reserves as it has in recent years, but he said predicting revenue and enrollment are difficult at best.

Toda announced that the college has already received a number of staff separation offers – 11 out of 68 – either resignation or retirement, but that no decisions have been made on who and how to cut positions, and “we have not yet picked a date when we need to announce an RIF,” or reduction in force, he said. “If we’re lucky we won’t have to make that decision until January.

“We need to protect our capital infrastructure, our people infrastructure,” Toda said.

Board members including Stu Watson and Fenwick, both of Hood River, had voiced their protest when the closure proposal came out, and last week Van Valkenburgh said closure was not an option.

He called Tuesday’s meeting to give the board and public a chance to hear about revenue and deficit reduction options.

Van Valkenburg told the audience that the purpose of the meeting was for the board to start assessing the range of options “so when we get to the (budget) process, these ideas will not be new to them.”

No one is taking tuition hikes off the list, but they were not among the nine suggested steps — some already in process — for revenue creation presented by Dan Spatz, CGCC development director.

Spatz’s list included expanding Latino enrollment from the current 22 percent to the 25 percent minimum that CGCC would need to qualify for specific grants, completing eligibility for the statewide Gorge Pathways to Employment workplace development program, enhancing the existing nursing program, greater collaboration with Hood River Valley High School, and expanding services to Sherman and Wheeler counties.

Fenwick’s statement that “we should not balance our budget on the backs of students” gained verbal assent from Van Valkenburgh.

Fenwick noted that tuition and fees at Oregon community colleges have risen by from $3,027 in the 2005-07 biennium to $4,126 in 2011-13, while state support has sharply fallen, from $429 million to $396 million over the same period.

“All colleges are having to look at tuition increases, and at Columbia Gorge we need to have that discussion as well,” Toda said.

Gov. John Kitzhaber on Monday issued his proposed 2015-17 budget, including $500 million for community colleges — an increase of $12 million over the current biennium but not a figure sufficient to keep up with costs and maintaining programs, according to Toda.

He suggested Monday that the Legislature consider removing the mandate from the 40-40-20 law if more funding is not provided.

Kitzhaber pushed for the requirement that by the year 2025, 40 percent of graduates will have an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate, 40 percent will hold a four-year or advanced degree, and 20 percent at least a high school diploma.

“I cannot imagine us being successful in meeting 40-40-20 goals by 2025,” under prevailing circumstances, Toda said.

Huffman, asked about the prospect of the legislature approving an increase in community college spending, said he was optimistic about “a bump.”

However, he said it would be nothing close to the $100-150 million — a total of $650 million — requested by the community colleges.

“I support it and will advocate for it,” he said of the larger increases.

Recent increases have been “incremental,” Huffman said.

“There are a lot of shiny new programs that are proposed to be funded (in the state budget), and community colleges and programs such as Project Independence and employer day care support, and other stable programs, that we need to get our economy going and in particular get that middle 40 of 40-40-20, are not going to be adequately funded. It’s bad and it’s a shame but that’s how I see it going.”

Van Valkenburgh said of the Indian Creek closure mention that “we never intended that to be a decision but it was on the list” presented by Toda at the last meeting.

Toda said at the end of the meeting that “I am committed to the success of the community college district in the Hood River area. He is starting to hold meetings with Hood River government and business leaders.

“I am going to bring them the clear message that we are here to stay,” he said.


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