Western Nevada College President Carol Lucey says legislative budget cuts have taken a toll not only on her, but on the campus she has shepherded for nearly 15 years. Partly as a result, she’s stepping down.
“Legislative sessions, physically, I can’t do that anymore,” she said. “You know what the last straw was? Them saying there’s no money left, and then Nic Cage getting what he got.”
That is a reference to millions in potential tax breaks that Gov. Brian Sandoval and the 2013 Legislature awarded the film industry on the grounds it would spur economic development in Nevada. Actor Nicolas Cage successfully pushed for the tax breaks.
Lucey said she went into the 2013 session thinking everyone was trying to help “hold harmless” both WNC and Great Basin College in Elko.
In the end, she said, “there was no hold harmless,” and both small community colleges sustained cuts even larger than the ones they’d endured in the previous two legislative sessions. WNC’s state funding was cut from $15 million to $14 million. If a new funding formula goes through, Lucey said, WNC will be cut to a budget of $11 million within a couple of years.
She said 2009 marked “the first really bad cut,” but that she didn’t leave then. She said she didn’t leave in 2011, when there was talk of combining all rural campus sites.
“We did not get hurt as badly as we could have,” she said. “Frankly, after the last two sessions, we really couldn’t afford even the 5 percent (cut) this year and the 7 percent the second year.
“We’re doing things I don’t feel good about and we shouldn’t have to do,” she said. WNC, she said, was able to do some great things for the first part of her tenure as president, expanding programs and working with area businesses to provide skilled workers.
Lucey, who’s leaving a job with total compensation of $221,159 last year, made it clear budget cuts aren’t the only thing behind her decision.
“I had not intended to be a president for what could well be 15 years,” she said. “I think 10 years is adequate.”
Lucey is recruiting for two vice presidents and said it’s not fair to be dishonest with candidates, hiding from them the fact that the president won’t be there when they arrive.
She said she also needed to tell system Chancellor Dan Klaich so her position could be filled before the next budget is being put together.
Lucey said she is hoping to be gone by January, but that she doesn’t think the transition can happen that quickly.
Klaich said the hiring process is just starting, given that Lucey announced her decision officially Tuesday to the Board of Regents, the chancellor’s office and her department heads.
“She has indicated she would like to move sooner rather than later,” he said. “I think that’s fair, absolutely fitting. As she winds up her presidency because she thought of the college first all along, we’ll do everything we can do together to protect the college.”
Klaich said he will talk to the regents’ chairman, and a search committee will be formed to find Lucey’s replacement.
“We want to get it right,” he said. “This is not a college in crisis. It’s not a crisis of leadership, so we have time to think about this and consult with Carol.”
Lucey said she is still working on plans she hopes will eventually provide WNC a stable funding base. Her key is Senate Bill 391, which passed the 2013 Legislature and opens the door to including local funding to help support WNC and Great Basin.
“In the end, I think that’s the only thing that’s going to allow Nevada to have colleges outside of Washoe and Clark counties,” she said, adding, “SB391 gives us the opportunity to fix things going forward, and that gives me a sense of optimism I haven’t had in several years.”
Lucey said she is talking with managers in Churchill County, Douglas County and Carson City about how to involve those communities in supporting the college.
“They understand that if they want a stable community college, they need to take control,” she said. “The economic development guys know this. If they want a strong community college, there’s got to be some community money and some community energy.”
The community college system needs money, Lucey said.
“More than that, it needs a stable budget.”