Budget team ‘bakes a cake’: Ingredients include class cuts and self-support courses

South Puget Sound Community College Senator for Public Relations Linh Huynh (right) writes down her group’s information while fellow Senator for Administrative Affairs Michelle Le (center) and Assistant Director for Advising and Outreach Anne Molenda (left) look on. Photo by Aaron Managhan/SPSCC College Relations.

The South Puget Sound Community College budget committee submitted a list of ranked budget reduction proposals (BRP’s) to the college council on Jan 27. Some involved making existing programs more efficient, having all summer quarter courses be entirely self-support, and eliminating classes and services altogether.

The BRP’s were originally sent to the budget committee by members of the student body, faculty and staff.

The proposals range in impact from $100 to $400,000 suggesting various ways to slash SPSCC’s budget by over $2 million for the upcoming year.

Members of the committee included students, faculty, administrative staff, campus security officers, student services staff, and the local community. They met every Friday afternoon from Dec. 2, 2011 to Jan. 27, 2012.

“We’re here today to bake a cake,” said committee facilitator Ernie Hughes to the group at its final meeting. Hughes himself is the founder of Systems Thinking, a consulting and facilitating firm that works with educational institutions and corporations to streamline business processes. SPSCC hired him to organize and facilitate the committee proceedings.

The committee’s “cake” was made of hundreds of sheets of paper filled with proposals rather than edible ingredients.

“The difficult question is, how do you get 41 people to agree on 56 different proposals that will directly impact students and our community?” Hughes said.

As the committee began its work, Hughes described the budget “cake” as having five layers labeled “A” through “E.” He went on to explain that each layer would represent the favorability of the proposals the committee was tasked with prioritizing.

Using Hughes’ pastry metaphor, layer “A” represented “a place to start” or the proposals that best offered a way to reduce the budget that were the most effective and least painful. The layers progressed to “E,” which represented those classes, services etc. that must be kept intact at all costs.

The process was not without various differences of opinion. While some members wanted to make as many “A” level cuts as possible, other members were in favor of a more frugal approach.

According to Hughes, he encouraged the committee members to make decisions about the BRP’s based on which proposals were the most practical and compassionate towards everyone at the college and in the community.

For example, BRP No. 1 suggested slightly reducing the cashier window operating hours. This would save an estimate of $7,500 with minimal impact to students and staff according to the proposal.

BRP No. 4, ranked as an “A” level proposal by the committee, suggested conducting a campus-wide “print study.” The study would evaluate how persons on campus use the printers in hopes of making paper usage more efficient. According to the proposal this would save an estimated $15,000 in the future.

Whether or not to move all summer quarter classes to self-support versus state support was also a large topic of debate (BRP No. 27). Self-support classes are those that the college funds by itself, via increased tuition or class sizes, without any state assistance.

This way, SPSCC can offer extra classes that students want, which it would otherwise be unable to provide due to the limited amount of state funding the college receives.

Many committee members considered the self-support proposal a risky move. Even though it would save the college an estimated $400,000 per year, the state would not count these self-support classes as part of SPSCC’s state-supported Full Time Equivalent (FTE) requirement.

The state counts FTE as the number of persons enrolled as full-time students at a college, requiring that a certain number of students be enrolled in state-supported courses in order for the government to fund them. If the college runs classes as self-support, the amount of students in those classes do not contribute to the college’s FTE requirement potentially creating less state funds.

Committee member and SPSCC Professor Mike Murphy said, “If we show that we can function on $12 a year for example, because of self-support, the state will only fund us at $12 a year, taking away that surplus money we worked hard for.”

Committee member and SPSCC Director of Security Lonnie Hatman said, “As long as [self-support] does not run the risk of putting extreme costs on the student or running the risk of classes not going, I support this proposal.”

Despite the concerned debate, the decision of whether or not to actually implement these tough proposals does not fall to the budget committee itself.

According to Hughes, he was told to expect the college council to revise the proposals before submitting them to SPSCC President Gerald Pumphrey for final decisions. After that, the Board of Trustees will approve the changes on March 8.

The committee members appreciated this as something of a pressure relief. However, the lack of specifics available regarding the impact of some of the proposals bothered many members.

The committee decided to include a statement of concern with their rankings. The point was to make the college council aware that more detailed information regarding the impact of the proposals would be needed in order for them to be properly evaluated.

At the conclusion of the final meeting Hughes said, “[This committee] should be proud of all the hard work it’s done baking this ‘cake’. And as we are about to serve it to the council I know that some of us would rather it have more layers, or more chocolate in the frosting, but that is the way it has to be at this point.”

Committee member and Director of Athletics Pam Charpentier said, “If the next level above us puts as much care as we did and as much thought as we did into this process, I am confident that we will end up in the right place.”

Published: Feb. 13, 2012 here.