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Co-Lin board keeps close eye on budget work

WESSON — Copiah-Lincoln Community College officials aren’tpushing the “panic button” yet, but they are making preparations tohopefully avoid state funding reductions should theymaterialize.

College President Dr. Howell Garner updated school trustees onthe ongoing legislative budget process Thursday during the regularboard of trustees meeting.

On its face, House Bill 1279 would leave community colleges $6million short, Garner said. Funding could be as much $15 millionshort due to some uncertain revenue sources.

A Senate bill would fund community colleges at existinglevels.

“We’re hoping to get back to even funding this year,” Garnersaid.

However, Garner said that would do nothing in the area ofproviding teacher pay raises. Instructors had received a total ofabout 3 percent raises over the last four years, he said.

Should community colleges be funded at the level suggested bythe Legislative Budget Office (LBO), personnel prospects were moredire. Garner said the LBO-recommended funding level would leavecommunity colleges about $29 million short.

“We’re talking about losing personnel if we get funded at LBO,”Garner told trustees.

Garner said the school’s budget committee and administrationwould develop guidelines for reducing personnel should that becomenecessary. He indicated that cost reductions elsewhere had alreadybeen utilized.

“We’re talking more than support and travel,” Garner said.”We’ve already cut that to the quick.”

Garner said college officials are preparing to make strategiccontacts with lawmakers to preserve funding in the event thoseefforts are needed.

“We’re not punching that panic button yet,” Garner said.

Several members of the Co-Lin Budget Committee spoke about arecent meeting to review funding possibilities.

“I left there very, very concerned about what we could or shouldbe doing with the legislature and getting more pressure on them,”said committee member Roy Winkworth.

Committee chairman Dr. Steve Wells pointed out that enrollmenthas increased in recent years, but funding levels have not.

“We can’t continue to deliver services to the same number ofconstituents forever,” Wells said.

Later in the meeting, Simpson County Superintendent of EducationJack McAlpin and Franklin County Superintendent Lona Thomas, two ofseveral area school district leaders on the board, expressedconcerns about pitting one education level against another in thelegislative funding battle. They indicated that K-12, communitycolleges and Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) are allimportant aspects of the state’s education system.

Eugene Bates, chairman of the board of trustees, said thesuperintendents’ comments were very insightful.

“Unity needs to be the order of the day,” Bates said.

In other revenue issues, trustees approved a $75 increase in theprice of the five- and seven-day meal ticket. The increase will gotoward offsetting an approximately $41,000 deficit last year andaddress some equipment concerns.

Business Manager Michael Tanner said the increase would bring inabout $75,000.

The increase would raise the five-day meal ticket price to $650.The current state community college meal ticket average is $619,Tanner said.

School officials said the meal ticket price had not been raisedin several years.

“This is not an emergency or real serious situation. It’s justsomething we need to tend to,” Garner said.

In other school fee matters, Garner said school officials aretrying to avoid a tuition increase for next year. He said tuitionhad risen two out of the last three years.

“We don’t want to do that again,” Garner said.

Students, though, may have to start paying a small fee for theiryearbooks. The possibility of an increase arose during board actionto approve a $39,988 bid for printing of the Trillium yearbook.

In the past, Garner said the yearbook has been provided tostudents free as a part of their tuition. He indicated that was notthe case at other schools.

“Most colleges either put it on as a fee or charge for the costof the books, whatever it is,” Garner said.

Garner suggested a $20 yearbook fee.

“That doesn’t cover the cost, but goes a long way towardcovering the cost,” Garner said.