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"Right-sized" Northeast budget to be $5 million less; personnel cuts coming

Rick Wagner • Jul 26, 2017 at 5:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — The community college serving Northeast Tennessee and its budget are about to be what the school’s leader calls “right-sized.”

“Right now we need to stabilize the campus financially immediately,” Northeast State Community College Interim President James King said Wednesday morning.

So Northeast’s 2017-18 budget includes more than $2 million in yet-to-be-determined personnel cuts as part of $5 million in cuts overall and a temporary halt to the Emerging Technologies Building project on the main campus here. 

“Every aspect of this campus is going to be looked at over the next year,” King said. “Some of the personnel cuts will start immediately.” 

Eight-year President Janice Gilliam retired effective June 30 after faculty and Faculty Senate votes of no confidence earlier this year. The votes cited over-expansion, unrealistic revenue projections and an “environment of distrust,” among other things. 

King said the $5 million in reductions will include $2.8 million in cuts to operating, travel and equipment budgets, with the other $2.2 million coming from personnel.

 “While some of the reductions can occur through natural attrition and leaving positions vacant, additional measure must be taken to reduce personnel costs,” a written statement from the school said Wednesday morning. “When your budget is 75 percent personnel, there’s going to be personnel cuts.” The Tennessee Board of Regents recently approved the 2017-18 budget for Northeast.

 

King said none of the satellite campuses, in Kingsport, Elizabethton, Johnson City, Bristol, Tenn., and Gray, will be closed for now but that they may be served more by faculty from the main campus in Blountville. He said adjunct faculty may be cut and full-time faculty have more teaching loads, although he said most of the cuts would be personnel outside faculty.

“We will have adequate faculty to meet all the student needs,” King said.

He said most of the newer satellite campuses “did not increase enrollment” because “basically students stayed home for convenience.” He said the school may wait for class sessions to fill up before adding new ones.

The school dipped into its reserves to make up shortfalls.

 “We wake up one day and have no reserves,” King said. “It just caught up with us.”

“Student numbers are going to dictate everything,” King said in a morning meeting with a Kingsport Times-News reporter, adding that previous budgets have been overly optimistic in predicting enrollments. He retains the title of executive vice chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents but is the full-time Northeast president.

 

As for the Emerging Technologies Building, King said that current work for site preparation was already under contract and should be finished in a few days. He said the project has been delayed and because financial reserves have been exhausted and the school will have to find money to pay for a $3.2 million, or a 10 percent, local match.

“The Emerging Technologies Building is going to be postponed,” King said.

“The $3.2 million has not been put into operations,” King said, adding that a capital campaign seeking private donations for the match will be initiated. “We need this building.”

However, he said even with Tennessee’s manufacturing boom, he will look at right-sizing the building. His background has been in career technical education.

“No one realizes the importance of the building more than I do,” King said. “We’re working hard to do what’s right.”

He also said to expect more budget reduction news out of the school in a few weeks.

 

—  Wednesday statement from Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora W. Tydings:

“It is always cause for concern when budget reductions must occur — especially when reductions in personnel must be considered. But the corrective actions are necessary to get Northeast’s finances back on track, and I have complete confidence that Interim President James King and the finance teams at Northeast and TBR are doing all they can to minimize the impacts on faculty, staff and students. While I am saddened that we have to consider staffing reductions, it’s important for everyone to know that Northeast is and will remain a strong, vibrant, fully accredited public community college totally focused on the success of its students and the Northeast Tennessee region it serves.”

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