Erie Community College (ECC) is packed with high-priced administrators and legal staff even though it has been forced to tap reserve funds and increase tuition tobalance its budget.
ECC President Jack Quinn was recently pegged as number one on the Western New York public payroll list by the Buffalo News with a salary of $192,000 and a hefty traveland expense account to go with it. But Quinn needed help running the college and last year he brought in a former aide from his days in the House of Representatives,Michael Pietkliewicz, as senior vice president for a cool $140,000.
Now Quinn, who also has his own in-house legal counsel office even though the college still hires plenty of outside counsel, is sounding the alarm in the face of what he calls "budget uncertainties" in a year ECC has joined with the county and the state in agreeing to spend $30 million for a controversial STEM building at ECC Norththat legislator Paul Burke called a Hail Mary pass for a college in crisis with questions still surrounding the local pot of money for that building.
Citing enrollment declines that affect state aid and recent dire financial projections, Quinn has sent out a confidential letter to his colleagues at ECC advising thecollege will be implementing "major emergency policy measures" to deal with the looming budget crisis.
We have obtained a copy of that message from Quinn warning of the belt-tightening measures that states "ECC is faced with closing an estimated deficit of $1.2 millionfor the current year and we anticipate using another $4 million (minimum) of fund balance next year to start to address an anticipated $7.8 million deficit."
Quinn's warning comes as state auditors are conducting the first full review of the college's finances in 20 years, an aud it that sources say was sparked by concerns raised about lax controls in managing taxpayer and student dollars at ECC.
Brian Butry, a spokesman for State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, said the audit began last October is expected to continue for several more weeks before it is completed. He would not say whether the audit was triggered by complaints from local watchdogs, saying "it is a standard audit," adding it should be completed by May or June.
But Andy Sako, president of the 1,100-member Faculty Federation at ECC, said he thinks the audit is good for the college "to make sure everyone is doing the right thing with taxpayer and student dollars."
"I think that the college has not spent money judiciously over the last few years for student -centered services," said Sako. "I think the money could have been spent better on student services as opposed to the high-priced administrators. They are running the place mostly on part-time help, and that goes for faculty as well. Yet they keep hiring high salaried, full time staff." Three of the four unions at ECC including the Faculty Federation are currently without a contract and are inmediation.
Other insiders at the school who wish to remain anonymous at this are critical of what they call the disengagement of the Quinn administration and the fact the college has not put together a picture of what the university will look like and what it will be doing in the near future.
We are currently examining an extensive list of expenses over the last several years incurred by the administration starting with Quinn, and we will be reporting on those costs, including legal and travel expenditures, in the coming weeks, as well as taking a closer look at the funding for the STEM project.
We sought comment from Quinn on his warning letter and the state audit but his office reported he was out of town on Monday.
Among the emergency measures Quinn outlined in his warning letter are reduced travel, including inter-campus travel between the three campuses, vacancy controlincluding creative hiring resolutions to get around a hiring prohibition, and the ending of waivers of fees for facility usage.