November 10, 2012

In My Opinion: Support sought for NCCC staff in impasse


---- — If you have been to the hospital anywhere in the North Country, chances are that one of the nurses or radiologic technologists who took care of you was a North Country Community College graduate.

Many local police and corrections officers, state troopers, business owners, athletic-event organizers, artists, managers, counselors, teachers, etc., have begun and/or completed their education at NCCC.

These students’ success was nurtured by the college’s full-time professional staff: teaching faculty, librarians, athletic director, enrollment and financial-aid counselors and student-affairs professionals, among others, who deal directly with students, teaching, advising and coaching them to success.

In 2010, NCCC was ranked the No. 1 community college in New York state and No. 22 in the nation by Washington Monthly, based on our high graduation rate, above-average care for students and ability to challenge and support students in their academic and personal journeys.

Unfortunately, the NCCC professional staff labor contract expired in 2009, and we have not been able to negotiate a new contract and have not seen a pay increase in three years, while class sizes and instructional challenges have increased.

From spring 2009 to spring 2011, annual enrollment went from 2,246 students to 2,847, while the number of professional staff went from 56 to 51, with no loss of quality but no compensation for the extra work.

The college has been responsible with its money. It has not asked Essex or Franklin counties to increase their financial support in the past three years. Yet somehow during this time, the college has been able to turn a negative fund balance to one of $3.1 million (in a budget of about $13 million). This was done by denying raises to professional staff, even when the staff of every other college and public school in the region received them. The college also did not replace professional staff who left or were let go, thus increasing the workload on everyone else.

NCCC professional staff are already among the lowest paid of college faculty in New York state, not to mention of teachers, in general. Our starting salary, for an instructor with a master’s degree, is 32 percent lower than that of Clinton Community College, 17 percent lower than that of Adirondack Community College and 26 percent lower than that of the Lake Placid School District.

Additionally, faculty at local colleges and schools, and even workers in Essex and Franklin counties have received raises over each of the past three years, while we have not.

Despite receiving lower pay, we contribute more of our health-insurance costs than most other public employees do: between 10 and 25 percent of premium costs. Our insurance itself is the state employee plan (NYSHIP), which is less expensive than what most school districts have.

No one goes into education solely for the money. We all have a passion to help students succeed. But we still have to live.

The college estimates its regional economic impact to be about $50 million a year. A large part of that comes from staff who buy homes, pay taxes, shop, do business, and own businesses here. We also serve on planning boards and advisory committees, organize artistic events, publish scholarly articles, work against child abuse, maintain websites for local arts organizations and serve on their boards, bring Santa Claus to local children and even raise money on our own for student activities.

We organize student community-service projects, like massages for Ironman athletes and nursing home residents, blood-pressure and cancer screening clinics, volunteering at the fire department, cleaning up wilderness areas, collecting food and toy donations, putting together community athletic clinics and more.

All members of the college community want to keep the highly qualified staff we currently have and continue providing a quality education to our students and service to our communities. So we urge you — graduates, parents of students, patients of well-trained nurses, proprietors of local businesses, whoever you might be — to tell the college administration, the Essex County supervisors and the Franklin County legislators that the NCCC professional staff need a fair contract that accurately compensates us for the work we do to bring success to our students and our region.

— Carol Vossler is president of the North Country Community College Association of Professionals and wrote this on behalf of the membership.