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Budget stalemate leaves hiring in limbo

WESSON – Copiah-Lincoln Community College trustees Thursdayestablished guidelines for offering contracts to faculty shouldstate lawmakers agree on a budget prior to the board’s Junemeeting.

Faculty hiring decisions at community colleges, as in K-12, areuncertain after state lawmakers failed to approve a new year budgetduring this year’s regular session. Gov. Haley Barbour isconsidering calling a special session but wants agreement fromlawmakers on budget decisions before doing so.

Guidelines approved Thursday by Co-Lin’s board involve beingable to maintain a fiscally responsible fund balance, to offerapproximately 1 percent “step” pay increases to staff and to notraise student tuition by more than $50 a semester. If theadministration cannot do that or a state budget is not approved,trustees would have to take up the matter again in June.

“The budget committee wanted to put some fairly tightrestrictions on this,” said Roy Winkworth, vice chairman of thespecial budget panel.

The budget committee has come up with several budget scenariosbased on legislative discussions and possible funding levels forthe new year that starts July 1. Lower revenue expectations rangedfrom $271,489 to just more than $1 million less than this year.

“The best scenario would be $271,000 short,” Winkworth said. “Idon’t believe community colleges will be funded at a higher levelthan this year.”

The contract offering guidelines were in line with the budgetcommittee’s identified priorities. Those included maintaining theschool’s fund balance, holding tuition as level as possible andstaff salaries.

“We do not want to raise tuition unless we have to,” Co-LinPresident Dr. Howell Garner about the student fee, which is now$850 a semester. “If we do have to, we want to raise it $50 insteadof a $100.”

Regarding the fund balance, budget committee members did notwant it to drop more than $100,000 as a result of state budgetactions. Co-Lin’s current fund balance is approximately $1.5million.

Garner said faculty pay increases are important in efforts toattract teachers to the community college level.

Garner pointed out that Co-Lin faculty salaries have risen about3.5 percent over the last five years compared to higher percentageincreases at the K-12 level. He mentioned instances where K-12instructors are making more money than those at the communitycollege level.

“It’s very difficult to recruit faculty from public schools whenthey’re making more money in public schools than at Co-Lin orwherever they may be,” Garner said.

Co-Lin Trustee and Simpson County Superintendent of EducationJack McAlpin, however, said funding was not an “apples to apples”comparison.

McAlpin cited differences in how K-12, community colleges andinstitutions of higher learning are funded. He also pointed outthat workload that K-12 instructors carry.

“I have a concern when people say that those people are paid toomuch money,” McAlpin said.

Garner said he is not against K-12 and increases for itsfaculty. He said the increasing differences in pay make itdifficult to recruit at the community college level.

McAlpin abstained from the board vote to authorize contractaction. No contracts will be offered until a state budget isapproved.

“It wouldn’t happen for anybody until we get assurances of astate budget,” Garner said.