A financial emergency has been declared for Washington’s community college system.
Members of the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges made the declaration at their meeting Thursday, June 11, 2009. While the depth of the financial challenge facing the state has been known for some time, the board was required to wait until Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the 2009-11 biennial budget, making official the impacts to the colleges. Today was the first opportunity for the board to meet since Gregoire signed the budget on May 19.
“This will make no difference to the budget-related processes here at Shoreline Community College,” SCC President Lee Lambert said. “Since this past August, we’ve worked to anticipate and plan, based on the economic indicators. The result has been that we’ve been able to work with faculty and classified representatives under existing contracts.”
The primary effect of the emergency declaration is on the process required by contract when faculty layoffs might be made. The emergency declaration would allow colleges to shorten the timeline to 60 days for what is officially known as a reduction in force (RIF). The declaration does not change collective bargaining agreement provisions addressing layoff units, seniority or recall rights.
“We’ll continue to plan as best we can for an uncertain future,” Lambert said. “At this point, we don’t feel the emergency declaration will make any difference to what we’re doing.”
Faculty union representative Karen Toreson also doesn’t anticipate impacts at SCC, but doesn’t mean she likes the declaration.
“While the State Board’s declaration of financial emergency will not alter the reduction process that has already taken place on at Shoreline Community College, I am nevertheless disheartened to learn that the State Board has taken this action which has the sole purpose of reducing the number of full-time tenured faculty,” Toreson said Thursday.
Made possible by a law passed in 1981 during another economic downturn, the possibility of a declaration can be triggered by any one of the following reasons: 1) agencies’ spending authority is reduced by the governor; 2) the Legislature cuts funding from one biennium to the next in constant dollars, or, 3) the Legislature cuts funding within a biennium in constant dollars. While the 2009-11 budget made it possible to invoke the law, today’s board declaration was still required.
Individual colleges are not required to use the expedited process. According to a state board staff analysis, a declaration of financial emergency enables local trustees to assess their institution’s fiscal situation and determine if they will exercise the authority to implement an expedited layoff process of tenured or probationary faculty. If a local board exercises this option, notice is given to the affected faculty members consistent with applicable laws, local policies, and collectively bargained agreements. The notice must clearly state that the faculty member’s separation is not due to job performance.