Walla Walla Community College keeps programs intact despite budget cuts

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WALLA WALLA — In the end, the budget for the 2014-15 school year Walla Walla Community College’s Board of Trustees approved Wednesday contained no cuts to program offerings and didn’t place a limit on enrollment.

The college faced a quarter-of-a-million dollar shortfall in its roughly $23 million budget due to several factors. Among them were rising costs, no increase in state funding or in the amount the college can charge for tuition, and the unexpected end of several grant programs.

But WWCC was able to make up the difference with administrative cuts and by replacing departing staff with temporary and part-time faculty.

It also delayed the creation of a construction trades program, which had been budgeted to begin this year.

But creative staffing solutions may unable to prevent more onerous cuts next year, as government agencies across the state are being asked to examine what a 15 percent cut in funding would look like for the 2015-17 budget cycle.

“It would mean a significant reduction in (enrollment) capacity,” WWCC President Steven VanAusdle said of the potential cut. “There’s no other way to make that cut. I don’t want to be too pessimistic here, we’re appreciative of the money we’ve got and we’re going to work with it. We’re hopeful that the revenue picture will improve and that the state government will set aside some funding for us.”

Ironically, one of the biggest drivers for the state in examining potentially massive cuts is the mandate from the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary Decision to fully fund K-12 education.

According to a report from The Olympian, that means lawmakers will have to put an additional $1.5 billion to $2 billion more into basic education next year on top of a projected budget gap somewhere between $700 million and $1 billion.

And higher education will likely be one of the first on the chopping block, VanAusdle said.

“We are hesitant to raise tuition significantly because our students are already overburdened,” he said. “We’re strong advocates for continuing to invest in the higher education system, but if cuts are made it seems like higher education is one of the first places cuts are to be made.”

The department that saw the largest cuts is the Arts and Sciences department, which includes degrees designed for students who plan to transfer to four-year universities. That department saw a $112,386 cut in the form of replacing retiring tenure-track faculty with temporary or part-time faculty and the elimination of a health instructor position.

The trade-off in hiring part-time staff, VanAusdle said, is that students have less access to professors outside of the classroom.

“It’s not a direction you want to go in,” VanAusdle said, adding that WWCC is considered among the top two-year colleges in the nation. “We want to make sure we don’t take actions that put our reputation at risk, but we’ve got to be pretty conservative in this environment.”

The college found $80,500 by spending the money it had set aside for the construction trades program. Although the program has been delayed for years since the Great Recession began in 2008, VanAusdle said the time would have been right for the program to begin.

“I think the construction trades is an area that appears to be coming back as the industry improves,” VanAusdle said. “I’m sure that all of our students would not have had trouble finding jobs according to the market analysis we did.”

Another cut included letting go relative newcomer Alan Busacca and eliminating his position as the director of the college’s Center for Enology and Viticulture, which will now be overseen by Jessica Gilmore, dean of business and entrepreneurial programs. That move saved $83,165.

Ben Wentz can be reached at benwentz@wwub.com or 526-8315.

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