The financial picture at Erie Community College is not pretty. Here's a snapshot of what it looks like: declining enrollment, annual tuition hikes, a current deficitof $1.2 million and a projected deficit of $7.8 million next year, and a dwindling reserve fund that threatens to fall below minimum levels that would threaten thecollege's accreditation.
We've written about ECC's big front office and legal department salaries and legal expenses, and are still awaiting information from our FOIl (freedom of information)requests for just how much money the front office is spending despite the financial crisis that it is facing (the only way to get information from this publicinstitution is to FOIL because ECC does not respond to requests for information and insiders are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation by administrators).
Just for the record, according to its website Erie Community College "is a public, open access institution, providing quality, affordable education and services to adiverse community and its citizens." Apparently that doesn't include providing the public with information about how taxpayer and tuition money is being spent.
According to informed sources,---who we are forced to rely on given the tight-lipped college front office---at least some of the financial problems at ECC stem fromthe fact that Erie County is falling short of its contributions to the college and students are forced to pay a far bigger share than they should to maintain thebudget.
As one insider put it, "Erie County is supposed to provide 26.7 percent of the budget and right now the figure is between 17 and 18 percent." As a result, accordingto other sources, the student contribution is up to 51 percent instead of the 33 percent where it should be.
Since President Jack Quinn's ECC staff won't respond to questions, we went to County Executive Mark Poloncarz looking for answers. At least the county executive'soffice responded to our questions about its contributions to the college, although it did not identify the percentage of the budget it accounts for.
According to an email response from Peter Anderson, Poloncarz's spokesman, "County Executive Poloncarz increased the County's operational subsidy to ECC IN 2015, thefirst increase by the County Executive since the outgoing [Joel] Giambra administration's increase in 2007 for the 2008 budget year. The County's operating subsidytotals $15,754,317 for 2015." [Editor's note: What happened the last seven years?]
The response went on to say Poloncarz is continuing to provide an additional $1.8 million through the county's capital fund through which the college purchasesequipment, computers and other needs, as has been done for a decade by the last two county executives. [Editor's Note: I wonder how much of that subsidy is neededfor the 20-plus staffers reportedly now attending a session in, of all places, New Orleans to check out new software opposed by the Faculty Federation.]
In addition to providing funds for capital improvements not provided by the Collins administration, the Poloncarz administration says it "continues to pay anincreasing amount of money for the costs of the community chargeback; this is money that Erie County government and its taxpayers must pay for the costs of ErieCounty residents attending other community colleges, such as NCCC. In 2015, that amount is budgeted at $5.89 million."
The Poloncarz response leaves one to wonder what was happening under the administration of the former county executive, Chris Collins, who according to the currentcounty executive did not increase the subsidy to ECC during his four years at the helm. And of course the last three years under Poloncarz.
Still unclear is what percentage of the ECC budget does the county's contribution represent? Since ECC is on communication lockdown and officials who would like totalk about the school's direction are afraid to speak out, the only hope for information is our FOIL request (which has been acknowledged) and the state audit that iscurrently under way but not expected to be completed for several more weeks. (You can read about other issues pertaining to ECC and President Quinn elsewhere in thispublication and draw your own conclusions about what's going on at this "public" college.)