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* Lots of budget information, few answers

Expect the belt-tightening to start squeezing tighter

 

The “belt-tightening bill” passed by the Legislature in February and signed by Gov. Chris. Gregoire will indeed cause Shoreline Community College to suck it in.

 

“We will be interpreting this very narrowly, very narrowly,” Campbell said Monday, March 2, at the Shoreline Community College Operations Committee meeting.

 

Although the bill went into effect on Feb. 18, it wasn’t clear just what the impacts would be. After a flurry of memos from state sources interpreting the new law, those impacts have become clearer, Campbell said. (See state memo)

 

Five main areas outline in the law, salaries, hiring, personal services contracts, equipment purchases and out-of-state travel are all in some state of freeze, including:

Salaries: Frozen through Feb. 18, 2010 except some increases for classified staff. However, the freeze applies to all funding sources, not just direct state dollars.

Hiring: Frozen through June 30 for state-funded positions except those related to academic areas.

Personal services contracts: These are frozen through June 30, but Campbell said this area can be difficult to discern.

Equipment: Frozen for items, or units, over $5,000. As an example, Campbell said a “computer” unit is everything needed to make a computer usable, including screen keyboard, the machine itself, taxes, etc. The freeze is on units of $5,000 or more, but multiple units of less than that could be packaged together.

Out-of-state travel: Frozen, although President Lee Lambert said schools with large international programs such as SCC are looking at how to fund necessary recruiting trips.

 

Campbell said anyone contemplating expenses in these areas should submit them in writing to the vice president over their area. The requests will be reviewed by the VP and Campbell, who added: “Then, we’ll have a discussion.”

When it comes to the budget, the only thing not shrinking is the number of variables.

 

- The equation includes the possibility of layoffs, but discussions with the individuals and labor groups involved could affect any answer there.

 

- The state budget hole is most likely deepening, along with a softening stock market and national economy, but a potentially huge federal stimulus package may bring some relief.

 

- Some of the federal money will be directed at education, but how it may be administered isn’t clear making what the billions mean for higher education, or the community and technical colleges and finally, Shoreline Community College, even murkier.

 

And, the answer to the No. 1 question at SCC - What’s going to happen? – isn’t necessarily helped by more information.

 

“It was ambiguous,” said SCC President Lee Lambert on Monday, March 2. Lambert spent the previous Thursday and Friday in Olympia for the statewide CTC presidents’ meetings along with his own talks with lawmakers. “We heard from Victor Moore, the director of the Office of Financial Management (and others). They didn’t even know.”

 

In comments to members of the SCC Operations Committee, Lambert did say that it looks like cuts of some magnitude, regardless of federal dollars, will be unavoidable.

 

“The thinking now is the Governor’s budget, which is 6 percent or 6.5 depending on who is saying it, times 1.6 so that puts it close to 10 percent,” Lambert said. “That seems like the likeliest scenario … absent any offsets.”

 

Those offsets could include federal stimulus money and tuition increases. Tuition hikes, Lambert has said in the past, can also tend to price students out of the market and may not help the bottom line.

 

As for federal money, Lambert cautioned that getting it to the state is one thing while spreading it around in the state is another. To qualify for the education portion of the federal program, states must assure the U.S. Department of Education that funding levels will be restored to at least the 2006 level.

 

“With the federal formula, one could argue we’d get to the Governor’s 6-6.5 percent level,” Lambert said. “But you have to be sure (state officials) apply the offset to us. To go there, I believe would be misguided.”

 

Lambert pointed to comments he heard from lawmakers last week that they would seek to fund early learning first and K-12 education second. “Look at the size of the K-12 hole. They could take it all,” he said.

If a choice is required, Lambert said he’d prefer to stay close to the current allocation level and rely less on the federal cash. “That’s only for what? Two years and then we’d be right back here,” he said. The federal law for the stimulus package calls for spending all or as much as possible within two years.

 

Regardless, Lambert said the federal focus is on professional-technical programs that can quickly churn out employable workers. “(The community college) niche is in prof-tech,” he said.

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