Freeport — The Highland Community College Board of Trustees approved measures to reduce payroll costs for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017 during a special meeting held April 8. The actions include a reduction in payroll expenses of approximately $506,000 to partially address an estimated $2.25 million shortfall (approximately 10 percent of operating fund revenues) over the course of Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017.
The cuts are a direct result of the ongoing State budget impasse in Springfield. Currently in the tenth month of a budget year that has seen no State funding, with little to no chance of receiving the budgeted revenue, Trustees are addressing a fiscal dilemma. It is anticipated that the institution will see a significant reduction in State assistance next year, as well, as compared to years past.
“Although this plan will necessitate reallocation of scarce resources, every effort has been made to ensure that the quality of academic programs and services to students are protected,” said HCC President Tim Hood. “We believe that the strengthening of and growth in academic programs during recent years has improved the financial position of the College. Without this positive momentum, the reductions that we are now instituting would have been more sweeping.”
Additional plans for Fiscal Year 2017 include $700,000 in general reductions in areas such as, employee travel & training, property/liability insurance, employee benefits, and the College- funded student worker program as well as about $240,000 in additional revenues that include $6 per credit hour increase in tuition for fall 2016 approved by the Board in March.
Reductions in salary and benefits include the elimination of five full-time positions, one part-time position, transitioning three positions from full-time to part-time, the reduction of working hours for two part-time employees, as well as not filling approximately one-and-a-half current vacant positions.
Included in the salary and benefit reduction is a furlough plan that will impact all full- and part-time administrative and professional staff, as well as full- and part-time non-union support staff. This measure is projected to result in a savings of $31,000.
“We certainly do not want to minimize the impact of jobs lost and working hours affected. Such decisions are extremely difficult and have been delivered with respect and compassion,” said Hood. “Those affected have given valuable service to the College and our students.”
Due to sound fiscal management, growth in student headcount, and the use of the fund balance, the College has been able to continue operations without eliminating positions until now. Most colleges and universities in the state began eliminating positions much earlier this year. According to Hood, “We remained optimistic that remedies to the State budget crisis would have occurred before now, although reliable sources in Springfield confirmed that the hopes for our budget for this year are all but gone and prospects for level funding for next year are minimal at best.”
“Significant efforts have been made to reduce expenses and increase revenues where possible to avoid reductions in force; however, it became evident in the past sixty days that the situation would not be relieved anytime soon. Accepting this reality, payroll reductions are now unavoidable,” said Hood. “Like most community colleges across the state, 80 percent of Highland’s expenses are comprised of salaries and benefits.”
According to Vice President of Administrative Services Jill Janssen, the College has been effectively managing the impact of a declining funding stream from the State for several years. “This past fiscal year, the College has taken steps to further reduce expenses, such as limiting outlays to those that are deemed essential, reducing staffing through attrition and restructuring, reducing employee benefits, and negotiating savings with vendors,” said Janssen.
“We intend to move forward with plans to continue adding new high-quality academic programs and continue strengthening present programs to better serve our constituents,” said Hood. “New and existing partnerships with our region’s businesses, industries, community organizations, and school districts will allow us to further expand program offerings in a financially responsible manner, positioning the College for a sustainable future.”
The Highland Community College Board of Trustees will consider approval of the Fiscal Year 2017 tentative budget during their July meeting.