Cuts would shut down rural campuses at WNC | NevadaAppeal.com

Cuts would shut down rural campuses at WNC

WNC President Carol Lucey said Monday an 8 percent cut to her budget would force closure of all Western Nevada College campuses except Carson City and Fallon.

Gov. Jim Gibbons has asked state agencies including higher education to make recommendations on how to cut back their general fund budgets by that amount – a total of $285 million – because of slumping tax revenues.

She said WNC would have to “close and mothball” the Douglas County campus (679 students) as well as the rural centers in Yerington (69), Hawthorne (24), Fernley (145) and Lovelock (38).

She said that would be a shame because, “these little communities, we’re the only higher education they have.”

Anyone unable to drive to Carson City or Fallon would be left with only Internet classes.

She said WNC also would have to move out of the Carson High Tech Center, asking the school district to assume the entire cost of that operation.

“This is brutal,” she said. “They really don’t understand but, generally, it’s the scale factor that does us in.”

She said cuts mean positions because 94 percent of state dollars, 82 percent of all WNC funding, goes to personnel costs.

“We have one of everything – one person in financial aid, one professional in admissions and records, one administrator for all our rural sites. So when you start losing positions, and it’s professional positions you have to lose to save this kind of money, you’re losing people who are important to the functioning of the college.”

Lucey said it’s not even possible to cut back those positions this fiscal year because most of the teaching faculty are on fiscal year contracts. Furthermore, by terms of those contracts, she said it may not be possible to cut many of them next fiscal year because the contract requires advance notification – often a full year.

After personnel costs, she said, another 5 percent is utility costs, which the campus has no control over.

“The only way to get after utilities money is to close down buildings or sites,” she said.

That’s why the tentative WNC plan shuts down those remote campuses.

Lucey said she has a good answer for a significant amount of the cut if it becomes necessary: Defer the 4 percent cost of living raise for all employees.

“But I’m being told there’s no way to send that money back.”

In fact, according to a 1991 Supreme Court opinion issued after Gov. Bob Miller tried to delay raises, only the Legislature in conjunction with the governor has the power to pull back state employee raises once approved.

Lucey said she ordered a total hiring freeze after the governor’s first budget warning letter in October. She said WNC is hoping salary savings from that will cover a significant part of their cut, which totals $2.74 million over the two-year budget cycle.

According to WNC officials, an 8 percent cut would eliminate more than 20 permanent positions, including five full time faculty. Further cuts to part time faculty would eliminate as many as 37 academic courses

She said cuts that deep would set the college back years.

“I can’t believe they’re going to do this,” she said. “This is just an incredible diminishment of our mission.”

Regent Ron Knecht, whose district includes most of the territory served by WNC, also has expressed concern about the damage 8 percent cuts would do to the school. He said in a statement at the Nov. 30 regents meeting the system should “carry its fair share of the restraint.” But he said that shouldn’t be the total $102 million the 8 percent across-the-board cuts would require.

Knecht suggested at least $36 million from the Rainy Day Fund and “a substantial portion” of the state’s $170 million highway construction program could be deferred along with a big chunk of the $194 million state construction and maintenance program.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

Eight percent cuts

Personnel Reductions Biennial Savings

5 academic faculty positions $334,000

Part-time faculty positions $63,000

4.5 student services positions $290,000

3 tech-support positions $336,000

3 admin-support positions $266,000

5 other positions cut $404,000

Total in personnel reductions $1,693,000

Other Reductions Biennial Savings

Travel-development $148,000

Library acquisition $145,000

Close rural centers $200,000

Revert investment income $320,000

Abandon CC Hi-Tech Center $94,000

Close Douglas Campus $84,000

5 percent operating cuts $51,750

Total other reductions $842,750

Grand total reductions $2,735,750