Clark College is poised to make $3.08 million in budget reductions for the 2023-2024 school year, with a vast majority of cuts coming from vacant positions in various departments. The need for reductions comes as the school grapples with ongoing enrollment decreases: a trend seen among community and technical colleges across the state.
The final budget proposal was presented by school leaders to the Board of Trustees on Wednesday; the board will vote on whether to approve the budget at its next meeting June 7. Board members generally greeted Wednesday’s proposal with praise, as reductions turned out to be lower than anticipated earlier this year.
Last month, initial drafts of the budget included a wider variety of cuts as the school remained uncertain as to whether it could obtain additional funding from the state Legislature to fulfill cost-of-living adjustment allocations for staff. As it stood, Clark faced an $8.5 million budget deficit and, after various meetings with department leaders, it identified potential cuts as high as $4.1 million.
Though still early in the budget evaluation process at the time, Clark leaders reached out to staff whose positions might be cut — an action they attributed to an urge for transparency — ultimately prompting a panicked response from some staff, students and community members.
Sabra Sand, Clark’s vice president of operations, said a combined lobbying effort from school leadership, staff, students and the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges convinced the Legislature to fully fund the cost-of-living allocation adjustments — amounting to an additional $1,070,657.
The lobbying effort stems from a frustrating disconnect between the state and schools, according to Sand and others, in which the state mandates schools and districts to make salary adjustments but expects them to pick up the tab with their own revenue. In an era of decreasing enrollment, doing so presents a challenge.
“It’s not typical that we get full funding for the (cost-of-living allocation adjustments),” Sand said. “Historically, the perspective is that we have other revenue sources that can offset that, but the flaw in that logic is that when enrollment isn’t going up, you don’t have the additional dollars to do that.”
This year is just the second time in Sand’s time with Clark that the state has fully funded the increases, an effort for which she said she’s grateful.
Inside the reductions, what’s to come
About 90 percent of the proposed reductions for next year — amounting to $2,773,246 — will come from the elimination of vacant positions, many of which are tenured positions. Clark will also make reductions to part-time hourly funds, the part-time faculty pool and the health care pool in turn.
The reductions, Sand said, are an effort to “right-size expenditures with the number of students (Clark) is serving.”
The remaining nonpersonnel reductions — an estimated $344,199 — would come from travel pools and technology and education materials that would’ve been required with a larger student body but are no longer necessary.
This round of cuts for next year only serves to eliminate half of Clark’s existing deficit, however — the school will take about $3.3 million from its backup fund balance to cover the rest, but will again face a shortfall next year as a result.
Sand and other leaders said Clark will continue to have to make gradual budget reductions in the coming years barring an unexpected increase in student enrollment. According to the school’s five-year projection data, Clark expects expenses to continue to slowly rise while revenue decreases and state funding remains the same.
In the meantime, Clark leaders say they will continue to lobby state legislators to ensure it receives the funding necessary to avoid more dramatic reductions. Though the process of identifying potential cuts and alerting staff early on may have ruffled feathers and caused unintended stress, Sand said Clark will continue to try similar approaches in the coming years in the name of transparency.
“Any time you talk about cuts it can create an emotional response, and it’s hard to separate yourself from that,” Sand said. “My hope going forward is that we can all understand this is a process. That feedback the staff shared with their departments gets heard as we make these decisions.”