Gateway faced with layoffs, program cuts

Kate Murphy

The significant cuts in state appropriations from Gov. Matt Bevin are forcing the Kentucky Community and Techincal College System to make tough decisions at the end of the spring semester. Many colleges across the state are cutting programs and laying off employees.

KCTCS spokeswoman Terri Giltner said the 4.5 percent state budget cuts, enrollment decline and increased fixed costs “will affect faculty positions at all of our schools” and colleges need to act immediately.

“We have been tightening our belt for a long time and we don’t have any notches left in it,” Giltner said. “It’s up to [each school] to determine how they will handle it in terms of employee reductions, program eliminations and each one are doing it differently.”

At Gateway Community and Technical College in Northern Kentucky, the cuts came in the form of at least 10 layoffs and four program cuts.

“We have had to make some tough decisions in the past few weeks, the most difficult related to our staff and faculty. These are decisions no one wants to make,” interim President Vic Adams said. "With over 70 percent of our unrestricted budget in salaries, unfortunately, further cuts mean positions."

He said in order to reduce costs while still providing high-quality service to students, "a number of positions will go unfilled, but sadly, this was not enough to make up the gap."

Ten full-time faculty and staff members were let go at the end of April as a result of what Adams called "the perfect storm" of circumstances.

The Gateway Board of Directors met on Tuesday and Thursday last week to discuss what's ahead for Gateway and vote on the recommended budget.

"A fundamental rethinking and restructuring of Kentucky's community college system is in order," Gateway board chair Jeff Groob told The Enquirer. "The need for us to to do more with less is the new normal, and short-term fixes don’t solve long-term problems."

The proposed budget, to be amended and approved by the board, showed a  $3.2 million reduction in expenses, nearly half of which came from "instructional expenses."

There was also a $2 million reduction in personnel costs, which Groob said wouldn't be covered by the recent layoffs.

These board questioned these reductions at the two meetings.

Groob said what Gateway administrators presented to the budget and finance committee was only a "summary of the budget" and "all this really tells us is the numbers add up."

The board wants to see a breakdown that shows where the money is being spent, especially amid layoffs and program cuts.

Members of the board approved the budget to be sent to KCTCS Board of Regents for final approval, but the Gateway board's votes were contingent on getting that information.

Despite "extreme resistance" and grudging acceptance of the task by Gateway administrators, the board passed a resolution as a caveat to the budget approval.

It stated, "In order to accommodate the short timeframe in the budget approval process this year, the Board has approved the budget with the understanding that the information requested in the attached document “Supplemental Questions to 2016-2017 Budget Approval” will be provided in good faith as soon as possible.

Those questions included:

  • Underlying assumptions and strategic priorities in the 2016-2017 budget.
  • Sources of $3,278,000 reduction in expenses over the 2015-2016 budget.
  • Instructional expense, which was reduced by $1.4 million, and headcount by programs of study.
  • Budget and headcount by department.
  • Student enrollment by campus and county.
  • Employment by level, including faculty, staff and administration.
  • Definition of "financial emergency" as it applies to notification of employees of a reduction in headcount due to termination, layoff, or contract non-renewal

Board members also raised questions about the future of Gateway and further staff reductions. The questions included:  "What investment is being made to reverse the downward trend in student population? Looks like a 'going out of business' scenario if we don’t do something" along with "Does this budget assume further staff reductions if the attendance numbers are met?"

At the meeting, Groob directly asked Adams whether additional faculty or staff would be laid off.

His response, "The board has passed a budget that is balanced."

In addition to the layoffs, Gateway recently reviewed and cut four academic programs.

Gateway spokeswoman Michelle Sjogren said the program review and suspension was "independent of the recent budget cuts" and none of those 10 positions were part of the suspended programs.

In an April 18 email to students, vice president of academic affairs Teri VonHandorf announced that Gateway suspended enrollment in computer-aided drafting and design (CAD), visual communications, pharmacy technology and exercise science, effective summer 2016.

Gateway does an annual program review in order to provide students “the most relevant programs and course offerings,” according to the email.

The email stated the decision was based “strictly on the criteria mentioned above and is not related to current budget challenges.”

VonHandorf wrote that students enrolled in the four programs will be able to complete their studies.

"The four suspended programs showed significantly negative enrollment trends that were not consistent with Gateway’s overall enrollment trends and suspension was supported by data collected," Sjogren told The Enquirer.

She said the board was advised of the program review but wasn't consulted on the program cuts.

Despite the concern from the board on being part of the conversation, Giltner and Sjogren say it isn't their role as the final responsibility for academic programming lies with the administration.