College system adopts $1.1 billion budget, other policies, following missteps

The Board of Regents for Higher Education has unanimously approved a $1.1 billion spending plan for the state’s largest public college system –a 6.5 percent increase from this year.   

But officials said that even with this increase, the adopted budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 relies on more cuts and does little to relieve the budget cuts the struggling community colleges have incurred in recent years.

“The [funding] model that exists today is not sustainable,” said Regent Michael E. Pollard before the unanimous vote this week.

Several college presidents and officials told the regents that costs outside their control are increasing too rapidly, and revenue from enrollment growth can no longer be depended on as the state’s population shrinks.

Almost all — 95 percent — of the increased spending is budgeted for the rising costs of staff and their health care, pension and other benefits. The college system next fiscal year must give all of the unionized staff a 5 percent pay raise because of a contract negotiated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Administrative staff are slated to get a 3 percent increase.

That mandatory pay increases are estimated to cost the college system $10 million to $12 million in the coming fiscal year. State funding for the system is projected to increase by $12.3 million next fiscal year.

The budget is designed to reverse the trend of relying heavily on part-time, less experienced teaching staff. The plan calls for hiring 57 new full-time staff (faculty members and other staff) and cuts the number of part-time lecturers and graduate assistant positions at the community colleges by 64.

Community college presidents last week said the new budget will require closing libraries on the weekends at some campuses, scaling back tutoring help, and increasing class sizes.

“You hear what’s going on at these schools and I think from our standpoint, it’s not an acceptable situation,” Gary Holloway, the chair of the system’s Finance Committee, said Thursday.

“You are right. It’s not acceptable,” Regent Naomi Cohen responded.

The budget for the nearly 100,000-student college system — which also includes the four Connecticut State Universities — is premised on maintaining the same level of enrollment as this year. With enrollment from in-state students down 3 percent at the universities this year, the system plans on enrolling more students from out of state.

The budget also allows “for limited use of reserves.” Information on how many additional out-of-state students will be admitted was not available this week, nor how much reserve money will be needed. 

Reimbursement policy changes

The board also Thursday approved changes to how college presidents are compensated for work-related expenses.

The presidents of the community college and online state college collectively have been receiving $160,000 a year to cover unanticipated college-related expenses. No documentation or receipts were required to receive this money and a lump sum payment was provided to the leaders each year.

The new policy requires the community college presidents to obtain “satisfactory documentation” of their expenses. Each president is elligible to receive up to $12,205 a year. 

There will be no change in policy for the  presidents of the state univerisities — whose unvounchered reimbursement ranges from $25,000 to $30,000. However, the effectiveness of the use of the funds will be included in the president’s annual evaluations, which the system has said are not public.

The change is in response to heat from legislators about how the previous college system president spent his block grant. Legislators sidelined a bill that would have required receipts for reimbursements after college officials promised to change their policy themselves.

The board also approved a pay-scale for administrative positions. If the next president seeks to award raises that put staffers outside the median pay for their position, then the governing board will need to approve the raise.

This was in response to a unilateral move last year by the former president who granted raises to 21 central office staff without board approval. That led to his resignation.

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