Community colleges told to plan for budget cuts

By Lori Kersey, Weekend Editor

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail file photo – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin joins officials from Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia and BridgeValley Community and Technical College to unveil Toyota Hall last year at the college’s Advanced Technology Center.

 

Under the threat of an “unprecedented budget reduction,” from the state, leaders of West Virginia’s community and technical colleges were warned Thursday to find ways to cut costs.

The warning came from the state Council for Community and Technical College, which met Thursday morning at the Advanced Technology Center at Bridge Valley Community and Technical College.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t ask each and every one of you all and your institutions and your boards of governors in this unprecedented budget reduction point that we’re in to do everything that you can in your power to be on top of your budget and consider ways of maybe cutting costs,” Chairman Clarence “Butch” Pennington said.

Pennington said the staffs of both the council and the Higher Education Policy Commission would be willing to help colleges cut costs by doing things the colleges often do in-house.

“We owe not only to the students, the staff, but your communities and to the state,” Pennington said. “We owe it to all those entities. We need this ship to sail a long, long way into the future, and it’s up to us now to keep that ship righted and pointed in the right direction.”

State lawmakers ended this year’s legislative session without passing a budget after lawmakers and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin could not agree on how to close a $238.8 million funding shortfall. Legislators have yet to pass a budget. Without a state budget, education officials are not sure how deep the cuts might be.

Sarah Tucker, the council’s chancellor for community and technical college education, said the budget cuts could ultimately hurt the business and industry in the state.

“It is very, very difficult to meet the workforce needs of the state when [colleges] don’t have the finances to do that,” she said.

As an example, Procter & Gamble, which plans to open a $500 million manufacturing plant in Martinsburg, is partnering with Blue Ridge Community and Technical College to help train its employees. Tucker said programs like that one require machinery and are open only to small numbers of students at a time.

“So yes, one of my greatest concerns is that these cuts will hurt our ability to meet the state’s workforce needs,” Tucker said.

Tucker said she’s also heard “rumblings” from a few people that the state might cut the council altogether. Tucker said the council gets about $7.5 million in funding each year, and about $6.3 million of that goes to support workforce training in the state.

“So when people talk about cutting that money, they’re talking about cutting workforce training to college and industries,” she said.

Board member Bruce Berry said the funding shortfall has been a few years coming.

“Unfortunately this has been going on since we got the stimulus money several years ago,” Berry told the council. “At that time all the institutions — both the HEPC and the CTCS — were told, ‘You better plan, you better plan for future reductions; it’s going to happen,’ and no one heeded the message. So here we are.”

Berry said both the council and the commission have made cuts and are looking at ways to do more cuts.

“We need, at this time, to be very resilient, but at the same time have the resolution that we need to be able to make these cuts,” Berry said.

In other business, the council:

•  Reauthorized the following schools, which grant two-year degrees:

Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, BridgeValley Community and Technical College, Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, Mountwest Community and Technical College, New River Community and Technical College, Pierpont Community and Technical College, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, West Virginia Northern Community College and West Virginia University at Parkersburg; American National University, Huntington Junior College, ITT Technical Institute, Martinsburg College, Mountain State College, Ross Education, LLC, Valley College of Technology (Martinsburg), Valley College of Technology in Princeton, Valley College of Technology in Beckley, West Virginia Business College Inc., West Virginia Junior College in Morgantown and West Virginia Junior College in Charleston and Bridgeport.

The schools are reviewed for authorization annually.

•  Heard a report of an audit of the council’s combined financial statements for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015. Chris Deweese, of accounting firm Suttle & Stalnaker, which did the audit, said the firm issued the council an “unmodified opinion,” which is “the best opinion that you can receive.”

•  Approved $11,300 in funding for the Tech Scholars Program at Pierpont Community and Technical College

•  Approved the hiring of Johnny Moore as president of Pierpont Community and Technical College. Moore was most recently the special assistant to the president at Northeast Texas Community College, where he also served as interim vice president for student and outreach services.

Reach Lori Kersey at

Lori.Kersey@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1240 or follow

@LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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