Another faculty early retirement plan looms for spring 2012

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Dr. Mark Meadows and President Denise Whittaker

Last spring’s early retirement offer coaxed 39 SWC faculty and employees to call it a career, a move that saved the college $2.5 million, but caused great loss of institutional memory.
Experience may soon take another hit. College leaders are discussing another round of early retirement incentives.
Andrew MacNeill, president of the Southwestern College Education Association, said faculty may see a retirement incentive in spring 2012, but it would not be anything as massive as the spring’s 2011 Supplemental Early Retirement Package (SERP). In May and June 39 employees left under SERP, including 20 faculty members, 11 classified personal and 8 administrators.
“We’re discussing it in the budget right now for faculty only for this spring,” he said. “A lot of people weren’t ready because the process is really quick and you would probably get a chunk of people that would leave again, but there is too much chaos in the domino effect if we offer it across the board and have to go through that again.”
MacNeill said while SERP has saved millions there is a cost to the college – one he said is more valuable than money.
“You don’t have that rich pool of experience and when some of the same things come around again, you’re missing that knowledge that will help you through or be able to approach a solution to a problem,” he said. “It’s like a family here and when you lose part of your family there is an impact.”
Interim Superintendent Denise Whittaker said SWC was $10 million over budget, but between SERP and other cuts the college is now only $5 million over.
“SERP is huge,” said Whittaker. “SERP allows the college to garner large amounts of money in one swoop.”
Typically faculty have a continuation of service opportunity to come back and teach for up to seven years after they retire for 20 percent of their salary, but those who retired through SERP are not allowed to come back through continuation of service for the first two years of their seven-year period. They can, however, come back as adjuncts for the first two years.
“The whole idea behind SERP is to save money and you have to show that you’re saving money in order to offer a SERP,” said MacNeill. “(Administration) didn’t want to offer the continuation of service at all, but we bargained to cut out the first two years. Faculty who took the SERP were not allowed to do the continuation of service for two years, but they can take the five years after the first two years.”
California Community Colleges took a $400 million budget reduction this fiscal year. The state decreased its funding of community colleges Full-Time Equivalent Student (FTES), (measured by a student who takes 15 units two semesters in a row) by 6.2 percent. Through SERP and other college budget cuts, SWC was able to fund more students than it was allocated by the state to serve.
“The budget committee committed to only a five percent cut so we went from around 16,000 FTES to about 15,100,” said MacNeill. “So that obviously means that (class) sections are cut and faculty is cut, but because of SERP we didn’t have to cut as many part-time positions, so that was a positive thing that came out of it.”
Whittaker said SERP could not have come at a better time.
“Less than 70 percent of classes are taught by full-time faculty, but the key is that the number was not affected by SERP,” she said.
MacNeill said the bigger impact from SERP was to the classified personal and without their support the college would not function.
“(Classified employees) really are the glue,” said MacNeill. “They’re the ones who get the paychecks written, they do the payroll, they do all the things that allow us to teach.”
Bruce MacNintch, president of the classified employees union, said the alternatives to SERP would have been layoffs.
“SERP was a means, it wasn’t an objective,” said MacNintch. “The state is dramatically cutting our budget and 85 percent of the college’s budget is made up of salaries. Over the last three years we pretty much cut all we can in the non-salary part, but this year we’re looking at a $10 million reduction from last year. The only way you’re going to do that is through salaries. Either the district could make up a layoff list and say these people aren’t working here anymore, which creates all kind of nightmares, or offer something like SERP.”
MacNintch said SWC cannot sustain the same spending because the state is not providing the same funding levels and the college is working to preserve jobs which saves classes.
“There’s a balancing game going on to stay within the requirements, but at the same time reduce the payroll while trying to not reduce the classes,” said MacNintch. “The bottom line is the state is cutting the money they give us to provide education and if they keep cutting, eventually services will have to be cut.”
MacNintch said because of employees retiring under SERP, departments have been left with open positions that have lead to internal hiring, but certain positions will no longer be financially viable.
“It’s all musical chairs,” said MacNintch. “Eventually the music’s going to stop and there’s going to be some positions that get eliminated.”
During the process of reorganization several departments have been struggling.
“If you have three people in an office doing certain work and now you have two, there’s going to be some work that doesn’t get done,” said MacNintch. “There’s certainly no way around it if you don’t have the money to pay for three people.”

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