College Update: Sustaining Excellence

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

by Sandy Shugart
January 14, 2009

As the dust settles on a remarkably busy spring semester opening, I hope you will take a moment to read a few items below concerning the budget, benefits, and a few other matters.

1. BUDGET You’ve been reading in the papers that the legislature has met in special session to deal with the shortfall in this year’s budget. Basically, our piece of the reductions is the 4% of state funds that were already being held back by the budget office. No additional cut is being applied to community colleges this year. This is relatively good news, a level of reductions for which we are prepared without having to make any further adjustments to department budgets. Next year an even larger state budget deficit looms – $3.5 to $5 billion according to the state’s economic advisors. So it remains important to exercise the good stewardship you have continued to display throughout this season of fiscal constraint. We continue to anticipate further state reductions next year on the order of 6%-8% and to offset them with tuition increases in the 6%-8% range.

What does all this mean? Our planning has been on target and our principles are intact. You needn’t be worried about layoffs, salary reductions, or other draconian measures. Please disregard any sad rumors to the contrary. But neither are we likely to be able to do much in the way of salary increases or significant additions of staff and faculty next year. Finally, we are planning to hold our capacity – the number of sections we schedule – close to the current level next year. Likely we will still grow, but on the order of 3%. We simply don’t have the resources to absorb any more growth. This may result in many students finding it impossible to make a schedule next fall…I estimate as many as 2,500 to 3,000. I know you hate this as much as I do, but I believe we have stretched ourselves as far as we can. When the state’s economic position improves – and it will – we will address all of these areas being deferred for the time being.

2. BENEFITS Given the limits on what we can do for employee salaries, we feel it is imperative to get the biggest bang for the buck in your benefits. It seems clear that now is the time to shop for a new health insurance provider outside the “consortium.” This process has already begun. A consultant has been retained to help us put out a bid for health insurance this spring to be effective next calendar year. This is a rather involved process and requires significant employee participation. HR has laid out a plan that expands the benefits advisory committee, surveys your interests and satisfaction levels with current insurance policies, and conducts forums on all of the campuses to hear more of your desires and concerns. Most of this occurs in February. Dr. Stone will be sending a schedule of forums as well as periodic updates on the project to the college community to keep you connected to this important work. The consultant and the committee will use this feedback to build the RFP for later in the spring. The expanded committee will hear proposals for the various providers in the late spring and the Board of Trustees will be asked to award the contract in July.

It is NOT our goal to reduce the college’s spending on health insurance, although we would like to make family coverage more affordable to you. On the contrary, we will assert in the RFP a cost to the college that includes an increase for the coming year. Our goal is to give employees better coverage, more choice in your coverages, equity in benefits, and more control over costs and benefits in the future.

3. OTHER I continue to hope that we can manage the external challenges to the college in such a way that it doesn’t create anxiety or a distraction from our core work. There is so much of great importance going on at the moment – the Foundations of Excellence self-study, deep curricular discussions, creative ways to accommodate so many students, massive increases in demand and awards in financial aid, important ongoing AtD work to improve student learning in gateway courses, another round of CCSSE data collection, and most importantly the day by day challenge of sustaining excellence in teaching and learning. This is where our real work lies. If you see a way we can better support your work through the present challenges, please don’t hesitate to share it with me.

Happy New Year!

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