The announced closure of the Indian Creek campus in Hood River by Columbia Gorge Community College was “a big mistake,” said board president M.D. Van Valkenburgh during Tuesday’s board meeting.
He said the mistake was one with long-term negative impacts. “We have to correct that mistake as best we can. The Hood River campus will remain open, we are going to go forward.”
The question of how to fill a $1.6 million budget deficit in the upcoming 2015-16 budget was a topic of discussion through much of the Dec. 9 meeting. A number of people addressed the board on the topic, most critical of the way the issue had been handled or expressing concerns about the future of the college.
Dr. Kevin McCabe, a part-time instructor at CGCC, questioned the ability of the college to maintain accreditation, noting that self-assessment documents required “a stable budget with sufficient reserves.”
McCabe said that concurrent with creation of those documents was a 2013 budget that noted the college “would use up reserves in the next two years.”
The college received independent accreditation in July of 2013, the culmination of a seven-year process.
Prior to that time, CGCC worked through a contract with Portland Community College.
Accreditation has allowed the college to award diplomas under its own name, maintain its own transcripts, award financial aid and plan its own curriculum.
McCabe expressed concern that the deficit issue could jeopardize that independence. “If we lose accreditation, we don’t exist anymore,” he warned.
Two speakers reminded the board of the “no confidence” vote against Dr. Frank Toda, president of the college, that was brought to the board in the fall of 2013.
Nine department chairs who make up a majority of the 13-member Instructional Council had voted unanimously to approve a resolution outlining the chairs’ reasons for their lack of confidence in Toda.
Other faculty members also weighed in, with 40 voting no confidence, eight voting against no confidence, and 24 abstaining, according to a report by the Hood River News that was published in the Oct. 24, 2013, issue of The Dalles Chronicle.
Dan Ropek, an instructor and department chair at the college, was the second speaker of the evening to address the “no confidence” issue. Ropeck said, from 2009 to 2013, a pattern of poor communication by college leadership developed, resulting in instructional leaders and faculty voting “no confidence” in the college president “out of desperation.”
“We thought if the board kept the president, he would fix these problems. Nothing has happened, the concerns were not acknowledged,” Ropek told the board. “There was a hidden cost when that process was ignored, morale among staff is dismal. We are back to a lack of confidence [in Toda] and it’s even more widespread. The staff is very distraught.
“I know your goal here is to get to a balanced budget, which is a hard job,” Ropek added. “Restoring confidence [in the college leadership] is important as well. What is being done to bring that back?”
Christy Reichert, student government president, told the board that students are very concerned about the situation, especially in Hood River.
She saw a Facebook posting by the college, which announced the planned closure of the Hood River campus in June, and then learned it was “completely unnecessary.”
“That was faith (in the college) that you lost, you can’t get that back,” she said. “It was a misuse of social media, it was unnecessary. I was shocked to see it.”
Van Valkenburgh agreed. “That was a terrible mistake. It has long-term effects, in a negative way. We have to correct that mistake as best we can. The Hood River campus will remain open, we are going to go forward to the best of our ability.”
As the public input portion of the meeting was brought to a close, Valkenburgh and other board members encouraged the public to continue bringing forward their concerns.
“We are listening, something is going to come out of this,” Valkenburgh promised.
After closing the meeting to public comments, the board discussed the college’s financial status.
In response to a question regarding the reserve funds, Toda said that in 2009/10, the state looked at the reserve funds of all community colleges. CGCC had the highest reserves in the state at that time.
In response to state criticism about having that amount of money saved, the college started a “burndown plan” to spend those reserves to offset the shortage of state funds.
Since that time, Toda said state funding has continued to steadily decrease.
“Federal funding has dried up. State funding has dried up. Private grants have dried up,” said Toda. “Without a source of funding, state, federal or private, we need to plan for the worst case, hope for the best.”
Over 70 percent of the shortfall is in “people costs,” Toda noted. “For the first time in the history of the college, we may have to do layoffs sometime in 2015.”
Toda also said he wanted to increase communication, and was working out a new budget process with that goal in mind.
“We will be working with the board, in groups and the college at large. We at least need a plan to bring forward, then we will engage, we will engage fully,” he said.
Board member Stu Watson noted one college that created a broad committee of faculty and staff to look at funding issues, capitalizing on the knowledge and resources of the school.
“That might be better than a top down plan that hasn’t been created yet,” he said.
No action was taken in regards to the deficit, but Valkenburgh concluded the meeting by thanking those who spoke and encouraging more input. The current turmoil in regards to the deficit could be productive, he said.
“Good could come from it. If you have a problem, let us know. We need each other, we need to get it done.”