Co-Lin banking on state funding

Published 5:00 am Friday, April 8, 2005

WESSON – State lawmakers’ failure to approve a new year budgethas left Copiah-Lincoln Community College leaders facing anuncertain future, but school administrators are preparing forseveral possibilities in expectation of eventual funding.

Co-Lin President Dr. Howell Garner said community colleges arehoping to maintain level funding for the new year – funding thesame as the current year. However, Co-Lin has also explored optionsshould a “worst-case scenario” of a $23 million statewidereduction, which would mean about $1 million less for Co-Lin, comeabout.

“We have scenarios built in for almost any level of funding,”Garner said.

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Lawmakers concluded the 2005 regular session Wednesday without abudget for the state’s new fiscal year that starts July 1. Gov.Haley Barbour is expected to call a special session, but a date hasnot been set.

“When that happens, everything is back on the table,” Garnersaid of funding and what could ultimately be approved. “There’sreally no way to know what the funding is going to be.”

At their monthly meeting Thursday, trustees approved a varietyof personnel moves for the new year. Some moves were contingent onspecial grant or other funds being available, while others restedon the status of the state budget situation.

“All personnel actions will be contingent on our having abalanced budget, obviously,” said Garner, adding that contractscannot be offered until money is available to cover them. “We havea statutory requirement to have a balanced budget.”

Garner said no employees have been targeted for termination ornon-renewal of their contracts. He said he had “every confidence”state leaders would arrive at a budget for next year.

In the meanwhile, though, community college budget writers, liketheir primary and secondary education counterparts, are having somedifficulty in finalizing new year spending plans.

“Right now, it’s kind of at a standstill until we get someinformation and know what we have to deal with,” said MichaelTanner, Co-Lin business manager.

Garner agreed.

“It puts a strain on everybody, really,” he said.

Even if Co-Lin is funded at the same level as the current year,Garner said the school will have increased cost-of-living expenses.Also on the spending side, depending on funding, he said there isan option or two that would allow staff and faculty salaries tostay on schedule with step increases.

Mentioning Hinds Community College’s plans to not increasetuition, Garner said Co-Lin hopes to do the same.

“Co-Lin is not going to raise tuition unless we get severecuts,” Garner said. “We don’t want to raise tuition.”

With indications of a special session possibly in mid-May,Garner said Co-Lin would have to alter its approach to approving abudget. He said the administration typically presents a budgetproposal at the early May board meeting for trustees’ considerationand approval in June.

With the uncertain state budget situation, Garner said theadministration would likely get input from trustees on budgetoptions and how to proceed. He was hopeful the budget could stillbe approved at the June meeting.

“We’re in kind of a difficult situation there, but we’ll workthrough it,” Garner said.