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College trustees split on faculty layoffs

Delaine Fragnoli
Managing Editor
3/10/2010


In a dramatic 2-2 vote, Feather River College trustees failed to pass a resolution that would have sent layoff notices to six full-time faculty members. The fifth trustee was absent from the Thursday, March 4, meeting.

The board was scheduled to revisit the issue at a special meeting Tuesday, March 9.

 

Trustees John Sheehan and John Schramel voted no, and trustees Bill Elliott and Leah West votes yes.

Positions on the chopping block included three sports programs — football and men’s and women’s basketball; two vocational programs — office career and technology and outdoor recreation leadership; and a library science position.

Faculty, staff and students packed the meeting room. A student forum the day before attracted about 125 students. The overwhelming majority of those who addressed the board asked the trustees not to issue the layoff notices.

Discussion highlighted ongoing concerns with the school’s amorphous budgeting process. Faculty union president Michael Welser said faculty would not accept the school’s internal numbers because they were not validated and so he was using figures provided by the chancellor’s office.

Librarian Tom Davis pointed out the school had recently received a letter from its accreditation committee continuing FRC’s warning status. The committee has repeatedly expressed concerns about a lack of coordination between the school’s planning and budgeting processes.

Academic Senate president Dr. Chris Connell said the administration’s numbers for the outdoor recreation program were in error — by a factor of 200 percent. He said alternatives to layoffs had not been considered and discussions should have started one or two months ago.

Several speakers, faculty and student alike, expressed fears that if programs were cut, students would leave and it would become harder and harder to attract and retain younger faculty.

English instructor Dr. Joan Parkin said it was ironic that on the eve of her tenure, the school was set “to take away the programs that made me want to teach here. Why would I stay?” (The trustees later voted to grant tenure to Parkin and Dr. Derek Lerch, who teaches environmental and earth sciences.)

The layoffs “send a message of weakness,” said art instructor Dianne Lipscomb. “We don’t look viable” to the state or to the accrediting body.

Parkin suggested the layoff resolution was a bargaining ploy by the administration to get faculty to take a proposed 6 percent pay cut.

College president Dr. Ron Taylor told the assembly he agreed with many of the comments. “Nevertheless, we are in the midst of a crisis.”

He said the school needed to “bring the budget into balance. We are $614,000 in the red this year, and that’s expected to grow next year.”

He cautioned that the layoff notices were a “precautionary action. We don’t have to implement them. I regret that I have to recommend it, and I empathize with the anxiety it causes.”

By law, the district must send layoff notices by March 15 and make a final decision on layoffs by May 15.

Trustees asked if it was possible to convene some kind of budget forum.

Taylor responded he was using three avenues of discourse: collective bargaining, the budget committee and the strategic planning committee. He was “leery,” however, “to convene an ad hoc process. It’s kind of dangerous.”

As the discussion continued, some divisions among employee groups surfaced. Welser and Connell pointed out the board approved, at the same meeting, contracts for three administrators — Chief Instructional Officer Dr. Michael Bagley ($121,199), Director of Facilities Nick Boyd ($79,120) and Chief Financial Officer James Scoubes ($119,215) — without any discussion of cuts there. Connell said some Southern California community colleges were putting administrators on month-long furloughs.

The board also approved four full-time faculty contracts that ranged from $61,793 to $81,985.

Classified staff representative Jodi Beynon said, “If we do have a budget shortfall, cuts will have to come from somewhere. It will fall on classified staff and student employment. If we don’t open this door (to faculty layoffs), it will fall on other parts of the campus community.”

Trustee Bill Elliott said the district “should spread the pain over everyone, from Dr. Taylor on down.” He cautioned that if the trustees did pass the resolution the crowd shouldn’t “make the assumption it (the layoffs) will happen.”

Football coach Steve Mooshagian asked what he was supposed to tell his 40 recruits between March 15 and May 15. “I’ll lose them,” he said.

Trustee John Sheehan noted the board was just trying to adhere to state law. “The only ox getting gored today are these (full-time) positions. It’s unfair. But it’s what we have to deal with.”

Sheehan said he was willing to wait until March 15, but he wanted to see specific proposals, “not whimsical savings,” from the bargaining units and the administration for closing the budget gap.

And so he voted against the layoff notices with the caveat that the board hold another meeting before the March 15 deadline. When Schramel joined him with a no vote, the crowd applauded. “Don’t clap. It annoys me,” said Schramel, the only words he uttered during the entire meeting.

West and Elliott then cast their yes votes. Student trustee Jessica Camp, whose vote is advisory, signaled her opposition to the layoffs.

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