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Wednesday, September 26,2012

Hocking Trustees adjust budget to deal with shortfall

By David DeWitt
Photo Credits: David DeWitt, The Athens NEWS
Photo Caption: Gina Fetty, vice president of financial services at Hocking College, breaks down the school's planned budget cuts for Board of Trustees members Tuesday night at the Logan campus energy institute.

The Hocking College Board of Trustees approved a variety of budget changes Tuesday night meant to deal with a $4.3 million shortfall due to enrollment declines.

Vice President of Financial Services Gina Fetty presented the budget changes – which include more than $1 million savings due to layoffs – to the board during a meeting at the school's Energy Institute on its Logan campus.

A letter from Hocking President Ron Erickson revealed the shortfall to the college community last week. In that letter, Erickson attributed the shortfall to declines in enrollment.

Figures from Hocking College's Department of Institutional Research show that the college is down 1,327 students from fall 2011. Officials have attributed that decline to the switch from quarters to semesters.

Fetty outlined various changes to the school's fiscal year 2013 budget before the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to approve the revisions.

Fetty told board members they usually would not see proposed budget revisions this early.

"We don't normally convert from quarters to semesters, and we've found some things out that we didn't anticipate," she said before outlining the cuts.

First, she said, the changes include reductions in payroll and benefits from "fewer faculty contracts" to realize savings of $2 million for spring semester. This includes moving half of one staff member to grant funding, two retirements, one resignation, and a reduction of force (layoffs) of more than $1 million.

Next, she said the college is making a reduction to outsourced teaching costs and applying that toward the deficit. The college is also delaying some computer renewal plans, reducing mailing costs, pulling all central travel budgets to save $120,000, and delaying the final payment on the Energy Institute building.

Fetty said furthermore that the plan calls for an additional $200,000 to be put into strategic reserve, and finally some alterations to some grant funding at the college.

A release from HC Wednesday revealed that 23 individuals total are being notified their employment will end Nov. 2. These include 14 non-bargaining/administrative positions, four professional bargaining positions and five support staff positions. Also, four individuals have experienced contract reductions andthree open positions will not be filled.

Both in Fetty's presentation and the resolution passed by the Trustees, similar budget struggles at other community colleges were noted.

OHIO ASSOCIATION OF COMMUNITY Colleges spokesperson Jeff Ortega has confirmed statements about enrollment being down at community colleges across the state, and that being largely attributed to the switch to semesters.

"Of the 23 community colleges in Ohio, 21 of them are projecting enrollment decreases," Ortega said Tuesday. "And of those, 13 of those seeing the enrollment decline are transitioning from quarters to semesters."

Hocking College is one of those 13.

After the vote, newly elected Board of Trustees chair Bob Troxel (the fire chief in Athens) expressed his sympathies about the difficult situation.

"This is a very difficult time for the college," he said. "It's certainly difficult for those individuals who work at the college. It's difficult for the administration. It makes being on the board challenging."

Troxel said that he had a long conversation with Erickson that afternoon, and the president told him he would be reaching out to the various union presidents at the college.

"We know how difficult this is for everybody," Troxel said. "Please try to bear with us, and we'll get through this. And let us not forget that we're here for one reason, and that's the students."

After the meeting, Erickson said that although the reduction in force is one prong of a varied strategy to tackle the shortfall, it proved necessary.

"The staff approaches these things so sensitively," he maintained. "The leadership team looked at three different factors: The impact on students – how do we provide the highest quality education and student services we can? How do we most respectfully treat those who may be affected by the downsizing? And how do we ensure the fact that remaining employees who may be affected by an additional workload still have a productive environment?"

He said those three questions were kept paramount in discussions about the cuts.

"I think we've done a diligent job," he said. "It's very difficult work. It's very painful. We maintain a family environment so this affects members of our family."

While it's never easy work, Erickson said, in this case it was necessary.

Erickson acknowledged that there's a tinge of optimism that once the college is established in the semester system, enrollment numbers could go back up.

"I think what we were finding was a cultural norm where if it's Labor Day (students) start thinking about college," he said. "What we missed this year, of course, is the alarm clock didn't go off in time. My theory is, for many students, they really were waiting for fall, and in fact now with the semester system you're essentially starting in late summer."

Erickson said that he believes part of the drop is due to the fact that school started earlier and a lot of students didn't realize it.

"But I think as we pull out of this, we'll see it moderate," he said. "And of course, with a focus on completion, we want to take care of those who come back."

Mark Yanko, faculty union president and instructor at the college, said last week that it's just too early to know what tangible impacts this will have.

"Everybody's a little worried," he said. "Everybody's hoping for the best and expecting the worst."

Kim Coy, support staff union president for the school, echoed Yanko's concerns, saying her unit is nervous as well.

The support staff consists of custodians, maintenance workers, technicians, secretaries, food service staff and other non-instructional, non-administrative employees at the college.

"We'll have to wait until Oct. 1, and that in itself is scary – a lot of sleepless nights," Coy said Wednesday. "I don't know how we got to this point."


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No rhyme or reason to the firings.  Most of the positions chosen were filled by very hard-working people.

HC has a bunch of VPs who don't do a whole lot. 

Get rid of them if you need to cut salary.  Of course, most of them are board cronies, of of course that wouldn't do...