Erie Community College is swimming in red ink, as we’ve reported over the last several weeks, but financial help is not likely on the way anytime soon.
The GOP-controlled Erie County Legislature will likely approve the county budget proposal of Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz later this month, but given recent history they are not likely to make any changes to the plan they received last week which includes a modest $125,000 increase in the subsidy from the county for a total of $17,554,317, or about 15.6 percent of the school’s budget, not the more than 26 percent called for in the community college funding formula.
“We’ll invite the ECC administration to come before the Enrichment Committee on Thursday, June 18,” said Committee Chairman Kevin Hardwick, a Republican, “and the members and other legislators will probably have lots of questions. But I think the budget will likely be approved as submitted by the full legislature on June 26. That is the way it has been and that’s likely to be the case this year.”
Any increase in the county’s subsidy, if it is in the political cards, will probably be contained in Poloncarz’s 2016 budget plan due at the legislature in October, which is before the November election where Poloncarz is seeking a second term. It could well become a political debating point between the incumbent and his challenger, Amherst Assemblyman Ray Walter.
But an important meeting on the road to October is scheduled today (Tuesday, June 9) when the school administration, the county, and the union representing more than 1,300 faculty and staff hold what FFECC union President Andy Sako calls a meeting “that could be very telling” in the future of ECC.
The union has been without a contract since 2009 and amid signs of some progress in negotiating a new agreement the parties will try again today to find a solution. “This is a very important meeting,” said Sako after speaking at last week’s presentation of the Poloncarz budget to the legislature.
Sako and Jill O’Malley, an assistant biology professor, both told lawmakers that ECC needs financial help, and needs it now. O’Malley said the inadequate funding from the county “is not allowing us to do our jobs properly,” urging lawmakers to put students first to get the college back on course. That’s not likely to happen this year, of course, but Hardwick is hopeful a long-term plan to increase the county subsidy can begin to come together as the deepening crisis is threatening the school’s Middle States accreditation.
Hardwick also thinks negotiations with the major union have been moving forward “and I think they are very close, although sometimes the last few yards are the toughest. But I’m optimistic.”
Where the money will come from to pay for a new labor pact is unknown, although while he doesn’t want any funding guarantees for a new pact in his budget plan, Poloncarz would certainly like to settle a contract in this, an election year, and probably has some money put aside if there’s a chance for an agreement.
But while the contract is one thing, Poloncarz has until October to decide what he is going to recommend going forward, perhaps finding bipartisan common ground with Hardwick and others who are hoping for the development of a long-term plan to put ECC on firm financial footing despite declining enrollment and a school administration that has lost the support of most at the college.
“Obviously there are long-term issues that need to be addressed,” said Lynne Dixon (I – Hamburg) who caucuses with the legislature’s GOP majority. “Looking ahead, the administration and the county will have to consider the financial challenges—and how we address that in the budget. And additionally, the school will need to tackle the internal issues it is now facing.”
We’ve identified some of those “internal” issues over the last several weeks, including President Quinn’s heavy schedule of outside business interests and a leadership team that is viewed as the enemy by many long-term staffers at ECC who are saddened by the school’s decline.