By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — PLATTSBURGH — At a special meeting Thursday night, the Clinton Community College Board of Trustees authorized the elimination of 10 employee positions in 2013-14.
Clinton Community College President John Jablonski told the Press-Republican that employees affected by the decision were notified throughout the day Friday.
Earlier this month, Jablonski announced the college was looking to the layoffs as a means of bridging an anticipated $600,000 gap in the budget for next academic year.
The cause of the deficit, Jablonski said at the time, was due primarily to a reduction of more than $800,000 in state aid over the past two years, about $225,000 of which was restored last spring, coupled with rising retirement and health insurance costs.
Employer contributions to retirement systems will be at 16 percent next year, he told the Press-Republican, and health insurance costs are predicted to rise 8 to 10 percent.
Before the board voted on the reductions, members of the college’s Faculty Association spoke out against the layoffs at the meeting.
June Foley, press officer and representative at large to the Executive Committee of the college’s Faculty Association, told the board the layoffs are “not the necessary response to unforeseeable events,” but rather “the result of a series of misjudgments over the course of the last four years.”
Foley, who is also a professor at the school, told the Press-Republican in a separate interview that Clinton Community has added 14 new positions, as well as filled several vacant positions, since 2008 despite decreasing student enrollment during that time.
“We should have known not to add positions,” she said.
Jablonski said there is no question that the college hired people during that time; however, “almost always it was done when there was an offsetting reduction.”
In some cases, positions were done away with to create new ones, he said, and in other cases multiple positions were combined into one.
“As some positions were eliminated or vacated, they were either redesigned or redefined,” he said.
Clinton Community College, he added, had 133 full-time employees in 2006-07 and 136 in 2011-12.
Earlier this month, the college hired Lisa Shovan as its vice president for administration and finance at an annual salary of $105,000, an increase over the $95,263.77 annual salary of Thomas Moffett, who held the position just before Shovan.
Moffett stepped down from the role in August after accepting an early-retirement incentive offered by the college last spring.
“There are a lot of counter examples where people were brought in at lower salaries,” Jablonski said.
“The higher salary is based on what we needed to do to get a high-quality chief financial officer.”
In a written statement read aloud by CCC professor Vicky Sloan, fellow professor Janice Padula told the board she is disheartened that the college has not gone to an austerity budget given its current fiscal situation, and instead, spending has continued as usual.
She added that the college community was not involved in the decision to eliminate positions for next school year.
Jablonski told the Press-Republican that those who spoke publically at the meeting were expressing their opinions and are entitled to do so.
“They said what they felt and spoke what was on their minds,” he said.
Jablonski also noted that he convened a labor management meeting Oct. 24, during which time he discussed with union leaders the possibility of layoffs, as well as any ideas that might be had for minimizing them.
“That was a very explicit conversation with the appropriate representatives of our bargaining groups,” he said.
While addressing the board at Thursday’s meeting, Faculty Association President Catherine Eloranto said the group would do anything it could to protect any of its members identified for layoff and has made efforts through the years to reduce the college’s financial difficulties.
“While negotiating our most recent contract in 2010, we agreed to accept only one health insurance provider because it would save the college in excess of $100,000 per year over the previous options,” she said.
Members of the Faculty Association also stated during the meeting that Jablonski and the board rejected the early-retirement incentive plan recently proposed by the association.
“The layoffs come as a result of your decision to reject the Faculty Association’s retirement incentive proposal, a proposal that is considerably less costly than the college’s offer last year,” Foley told the board at the meeting.
Last spring, the college offered a three-tiered early retirement incentive, which depending on the number of years an employee served the college, offered a lump sum of $30,000, $20,000 or $10,000 to employees who retired early.
This lump sum, Jablonski told the Press-Republican, was in addition to any retirement benefits an employee was contractually entitled to.
The purpose of offering the incentive, he said, was to see if any of the college’s long-term employees would be willing to retire early, allowing the college to hire replacements at a lower rate of pay.
No members of the Faculty Association took the package; however, two college employees, including Moffett, did.
On Nov. 15, the Faculty Association presented its early-retirement incentive proposal, which the association estimated would result in $1.3 million in savings to the college over the next five years.
The proposal, Foley told the Press-Republican, was rejected without negotiation.
“They just said ‘no,’” she said.
The association’s proposal pertained to retirements at the end of 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 and called for the college to pay 100 percent of the cost of retiree health insurance, as well as 100 percent of health insurance costs for retirees’ surviving spouses after their death.
Jablonski said this didn’t make sense for the college in the long term since CCC currently only pays 90 percent of retiree health insurance costs and does not cover surviving spouses.
“As we looked at those provisions at a time when the college is concerned with rising health care costs, it seemed to be an unattractive option that we would pay a higher percentage and potentially pay it for longer,” he said.
The idea of a three-year proposal was also unattractive, he said, because it seemed likely that some of the people who received the incentive might have retired anyway during that time.
“There were too many reasons taken together that made it an unattractive proposal,” he said.
The college didn’t negotiate the proposal, he added, because, “When the proposal was made by Faculty Association president, a statement was made by the Faculty Association president that there wasn’t much room to negotiate the proposal.”
The employees affected by the layoffs, Jablonski said, will still be employed by the college through Aug. 31, 2013, if they so choose and have been offered transitional help with acquiring new work, whether that be through a new employer, or if the opportunity arises, through a different position at the college.
“They’re good people,” Jablonski said. “They’re people that we want to be successful.”
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