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Lane Community College Budget in Question: Debate swirls over the LCC budget and its process

Philosophy instructor Jeffrey Borrowdale has taught at Lane Community College for 17 years. In one month, though, his position as the sole full-time philosophy instructor may be terminated to save money. The cuts have created turmoil at the community college.

LCC has a $10.6 million budget deficit for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Despite a decline in enrollment from 40,099 students in 2001 to 28,219 in 2016, management positions have steadily increased while the number of full-time instructors has decreased.

As the college president, board, faculty and union struggle to find a solution to the crisis, outgoing LCC President Mary Spilde has been holding private meetings with board members — bringing into question what is allowed under Oregon’s public meetings law — to discuss the budget shortfall.

An overwhelming amount of public testimony has been heard during the budget meetings, calling for additional meeting times to accommodate the number of comments. Adrienne Mitchell, a member of the school’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee, says 145 signed up to speak during the budget committee’s April 19 meeting.

While cuts are being considered across the spectrum in LCC’s 2017-2018 proposed budget  — ranging from expense reductions in part-time classified staff to reducing non-mandatory items like travel — the biggest proposed layoffs will hit instructors the hardest.

The proposed reductions reduce philosophy course offerings and eliminate religion, respiratory therapy and the honors programs. The projected savings from those cuts total $1.63 million, according to the 2018 Administrative Budget Balancing Options Summary.

Although financial cuts are necessary to balance the budget, members of the LCC Education Association, the faculty union, have asked the budget office to calculate lost revenue from the proposed program cuts and include those figures in the proposed budget.

LCCEA members insist the proposed budget is misleading because it does not account for the tuition revenue that will be lost by the instructional programs on the chopping block. “In many cases, the proposed savings, the numbers that the administration has presented to the board and to the budget committee and the community are simply false,” according to LCCEA President Jim Salt.

Issues pertaining to the budget don’t stop at conflicting calculations from the Budget Office and the LCCEA.

Before the Budget Committee’s public meetings, Spilde held individual meetings with each member of the LCC Board of Education.

Board Chair Rosie Pryor says LCC’s budget was discussed during her meeting with Spilde. “It’s her job to work with each and everyone of the board members individually so that she can provide full information in a public meeting session,” Pryor says.

Oregon’s public meetings law states that decisions of governing bodies “must be made in public,” anytime “a quorum is required to make or deliberate toward a decision on any matter, or to do information gathering.”

Duane A. Bosworth, a Portland-based First Amendment lawyer who frequently litigates public records and public meetings matters, says the area of law on serial meetings has not been decided. Bosworth says oral arguments for Handy v. Lane County, a case that was heard by the Oregon Supreme Court in 2016, brought up “by several members of the Supreme Court noted that this would be a huge hole in the public meetings requirement if you could evade those requirements by meeting a few at a time.”

“There’s no question that doing it one or a few at a time avoids the requirements of transparency in Oregon public meetings law. It’s an end run around the statutory requirements,” Bosworth says.

Spilde says if board members desire to meet prior to a board meeting then she will meet with them “to prep on a whole variety of issues both things that are on the agenda,” and things that they are dealing with. She adds, “That’s the practice that we have done for the last 16 years — nothing unusual about that.”

Overall, the administrative balancing options document proposes that nine faculty positions, four staff positions and two managerial positions be cut in order to reduce expenses. Significant cuts will be made to early childhood education, and the geography information systems program will be put on hold for a year — although these programs were initially slated to be cut entirely.

Despite class fill rates of 94 percent for the 2017 spring term and a demand to teach Chinese religions, religion and some philosophy courses are still on the chopping block.

Pryor says, “The programs that have been placed before the budget committee for consideration, those numbers have been declining.”

Cutting religion, a core academic discipline, is a travesty, says religious studies instructor Jonathan Seidel.

Seidel, an adjunct instructor who teaches approximately eight classes per year and has 35 years teaching of teaching experience, would lose his job completely.

“I think it’s a bad signal to give to Eugene and Lane County to cancel religion,” he says. “We are critical of religion here, we interrogate religion, but we’re also a safe place for conservatives that want to be here not be harassed in the classroom, I try to create a safe place for the atheist, the humanists and conservatives. So I feel it’s a huge loss, and it’s a black eye to the college.”

The administration’s proposed budget — goes before the LCC board on Wednesday, May 10, after EW goes to press  — accounts only for the immediate savings resulting from the cuts and fails to account for the loss of the tuition revenue. The board will officially adopt the budget June 14.

The faculty union ran its own numbers, compared them to the administration’s budget, and created a balanced budget that retains all instructional programs. The union’s data show that philosophy and religion bring in approximately $337,000 each year, according to faculty member Adrienne Mitchell.

“So there’s no accounting in the administrator’s budget for the lost revenue,” Mitchell says.  

Salt says, “The primary problem with [the numbers] is that they have only calculated the expense cuts and are claiming that those are savings — without calculating the net impact of the change by estimating the impact upon revenue and subtracting the revenue losses from the expense cuts.”

Both Spilde and Pryor say lost tuition revenue calculations are included in the budget. They couldn’t, though, point to the figures in the budget and referred Eugene Weekly to Brian Kelly, LCC’s vice president of student services.

Kelly did not provide specific lost tuition revenue figures. He forwarded an unsigned email from the budget office that reads: “The college is projecting a net zero change to enrollment in 2017-2018. Any lost enrollment from program reductions will be offset by increased enrollment in career technical, transfer, and online courses through intentional program growth in these areas.”

Board chair Pryor says she has seen the data from the faculty union but says she is not convinced of the faculty union’s budget.

“I’m not persuaded. I’m simply not persuaded,” she says. “That’s my opinion as volunteer member of Board of Education I evaluate all the information that is presented to me and I have to make a choice.”

She adds, “I have internalized that some revenue will be lost.”

Spilde says the faculty union’s budget cut 40 percent of managers, and neither she nor the board sees that as a “reasonable approach” to balancing the budget. Primarily because “the daily rate for managers is lower than the daily rate for faculty,” she Spilde says. “Why? Because faculty work 170 days and managers work 260 days.”

She explains, “What I would say is that there is no program at Lane that makes money. Every program is subsidized by either property tax or income tax through our state allocation.”

Administrative bloat at Lane has increased over the last decade. Beginning with the recession in 2008, the college had 55 managers compared to 235 contracted faculty and 168 part-time faculty. In 2016, the number of managers increased to 63 managers compared to a decline of contracted faculty to 212. The number of part-time positions increased to 189.

Borrowdale says the budget does not include any real cuts in management. “Managers went up during the boom times and have stayed steady despite a big drop in enrollment — so you’ve got few students, fewer full-time faculty, but for some reason you need more managers?”

LCC is not alone in its budget crisis. The University of Oregon Board voted to raise in-state tuition by 10.6 percent in March. A tuition hike is also up for vote in front of the LCC board.

The community college is facing scrutiny for its restructuring methods of contracted faculty — raising concerns regarding potential contract violations.

“In this case they are actually laying someone off so they can hire more part time faculty because of the cheaper rate,” Borrowdale says. “And that to me is an incredibly immoral act, and I use that word because it’s one of the subjects that philosophers teach of course is morality and ethics. I think the college needs to take a philosophy class in ethics.”

In reference to faculty contracts, Spilde says, “If we’re not offering enough classes to be more than half time, it’s not a violation of the contract.”

LCC faculty members aren’t optimistic those programs will be saved or that the budget committee will update its calculations to reflect the total cost and revenue lost by the budget cuts.

In an email to the board and the budget committee, the faculty union has asked the administration to the provide the college and the budget committee with “the net financial impact of the proposed program and service cuts at the program level…”

Salt says, “I believe they intentionally decided not to do those calculations because they know what the outcome will be in many cases; it won’t save them any money.”