Clark College board passes no-cuts budget

State-mandated pay cuts, tuition hike included in school's spending plan

By Jacques Von Lunen, Columbian staff writer

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The Clark College board of trustees on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of a $132.8 million budget proposal for the coming school year.

Next year's budget will be 1 percent larger than last year's, which was $131.5 million.

Most significantly, for the first time in years this budget contains no program cuts or reductions in services for students.

It does, however, include a tuition increase and a reduction in pay for employees, both of which are state-mandated and not decided at the local level.

This spring, college administrators received some good news from Olympia for a change, when legislators hammered out a last-minute supplemental state budget that made no cuts to the college. The administrators already had started planning how to cut $2.7 million.

They still have to make do with less state money, as the biennial budget passed last year already included cuts of $1.4 million to Clark College.

To make up for those cuts, legislators authorized the State Board for Technical and Community Colleges to raise tuition at the two-year colleges. They also cut pay for college classified staff by 3 percent for this coming school year. Classified staff includes office and maintenance workers, among others.

Salaries of instructors and top-level administrators weren't included in that state-mandated pay cut, but those employee groups at Clark agreed to have their pay reduced by the same percentage, said President Bob Knight.

Tuition will rise by 12 percent next year, which will add an estimated $3.7 million to the college's revenue.

Subtract the $1.4 million in lost state money from that figure and you might expect the college to come out ahead by more than $2 million.

But the college instead permanently budgeted for $2.4 million in part-time employee salaries and other fluctuating expenses.

In previous years, those expenses had not been included in the base budget and instead had to be added in over the course of the year.

The college expects to enroll the equivalent of about 10,600 full-time students next school year. That would be 100 more than last year, and about 2,500 more than what the state pays for.

About 62 percent of money spent at the college goes to instruction, Bob Williamson, vice president of administrative services, told the board during a workshop before the meeting. About 18 percent is spent on administrative services.

While the lack of program and service cuts is a bit of good news,

there's little margin for error in the budget, Williamson said. Any cuts from the state that come down later in the year will trigger reductions at the college. And staff morale will be stressed by the 3 percent pay cut, he said during the workshop.

Minutes later, in the actual board meeting, the first sign of that stress emerged. A representative of the Washington Public Employees Association, the union representing classified staff at the college, announced that the union has filed a labor-practices complaint against all college presidents in the state over the pay cut.

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com;http://www.twitter.com/col_schools.