As it prepares to pass an annual budget, eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountain Community College and its faculty union remain divided on how many staff the college should lay off.
BMCC President Mark Browning and Pete Hernberg, the president of the college’s faculty union, appeared Thursday on Think Out Loud to talk about the 2022-23 budget and what it means for the institution’s future.
The conflict began in April when Browning confirmed that the college planned to eliminate 10 full-time faculty positions over the summer, shuttering multiple programs in the process.
Browning said BMCC needed to cut more than $1 million in personnel costs to address declining student enrollment. Blue Mountain Community College’s student body was less than half the size it was 10 years ago, a trend Browning said was being accelerated by a strong labor market.
“An essential part of community colleges is that when the economy in general is doing well, unemployment is low, wages are up,” he said, “that’s not a good time for us. We typically suffered downward enrollment during those times. And that certainly has been the case here.”
Hernberg said BMCC’s three primary sources of revenue – enrollment, state funding and property taxes – are all up this year, meaning the cuts were unnecessary. If BMCC moved forward with its plan, the administration would endanger the college’s future, he said.
“We believe that if they proceed with these cuts, what we’ll see next year is a dramatic decline in enrollment, a dramatic decline in revenue and an inability to serve our students and keep our promises,” Hernberg said.
BMCC’s plan received immediate pushback from the union, but both sides spent most of May meeting privately to negotiate a compromise.
Those discussions ended May 20 when the union walked away from the table. The union offered salary concessions and early retirements in exchange for no layoffs, but Browning said not all of the union’s proposals “penciled out.”
Hernberg said BMCC was still insistent on layoffs despite increasing its budgets for travel, supplies and furniture, as well as creating new positions to handle the college’s data and communications.
“What we see is the college choosing to allocate resources away from educational offerings that our students and communities depend on and into its own internal matters, hiring new administrators and not keeping our promises to the students,” he said.
Browning said both positions were important to the college’s growth and the disagreement between the college and the union was a matter of vision. BMCC needed to be more “balanced and comprehensive,” Browning said, with a greater emphasis on job training.
As a part of the potential reshuffling, the college plans to shutter its industrial science technology program in Boardman. But the move drew concern from the Morrow County Board of Commissioners, who voted to withhold $627,000 from BMCC in April until the issue was resolved.
In the meantime, the college’s budget is still on track for passage. The budget committee approved the spending plan Wednesday and the full BMCC Board of Education is set to approve it June 1.
The union is planning to hold a rally ahead of the meeting.