TORRINGTON – Eastern Wyoming College has been ordered to slash expenses by almost $1.5 million over the next two years.
How that’s going to happen is still somewhat up in the air as the EWC Board of Trustees met in executive session June 24 to mull its options.
EWC President Dr. Lesley Travers on Friday said she’d presented trustees with three options – none of which is ideal – as part of a two-phase plan that would cut spending by the 20% hinted at by Gov. Mark Gordon and state officials over two years.
“We can take [the 20% cuts] any way we want; My feeling was 10% and 10%,” Travers said. “I can’t imagine trying to take a 20% cut in one year.”
The breakdown of the tentative plan, which EWC Trustees have yet to approve, is in two phases, she said. The first phase, during the 2020-21 academic year beginning this fall, would not lead to staff or programs being cut. It does, however, call for some key positions that are currently vacant to remain unfilled.
Cuts in staffing would come during the 2021-22 academic year, if needed, Travis said. Not sharing all the details of possible cuts, she said they could lead to the loss of five, 12 or as many as 14 positions at the college, depending on which option Trustees choose.
These decisions come on the heels of the announcement the schools of the Northern Wyoming Community College District – Gillette College and Sheridan College – opted to do away with nationally-ranked sports programs and fire most of their coaches. Only rodeo remains at the schools, according to news reports last week, with a significantly reduced budget.
Doing away with Lancer sports programs is currently not in the cards, Travers said.
“I think – I can’t say that’s written in stone; the board hasn’t voted,” she said. “The board could come back and say, ‘that’s a great idea.’ But that wasn’t in any of my proposals.”
But that doesn’t mean sports programs wouldn’t be affected, Travers said. Trustees could opt to reduce the number of scholarships available, for example, and to curtail travel and recruiting - or more.
Travers would not talk specifics of the cost-saving plans presented to the Board, she said, out of concern for staff. One issue making the discussions particularly difficult is, while state agencies have been instructed to plan for 20% cuts over the coming biennium, that’s not definite yet, Travers said.
In early June, Gordon outlined a phased plan to be coordinated closely with the legislative branch, according to a press release dated June 4. The next step requires state agency directors to “identify and explain programs” to eliminate by July 1, along with the consequences of those proposals.
The cuts will “likely lead to some employees losing their jobs,” the release said. Gordon also asked agencies to consider salary reductions, furloughs, reductions in benefits and other options.
In April, citing revenue reductions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gordon ordered a state hiring freeze, a moratorium on general fund contracts greater than $100,000 and a “rigorous review of major maintenance spending,” according to another press release.
“But we haven’t heard a hard-and-fast number” related to budget reductions for the community colleges and other, state-funded agencies, including the Wyoming Community College Commission,” she said. “I think what I would like to see is to let us know exactly what we need to cut in the next two to three years. I don’t want to do this and then, next year, have to redo this.”
Also, being a long-time resident of Wyoming, Travers is well aware of the boom-and-bust cycle of the state’s energy industry. It’s happened before, she said, where coal production – the backbone of the state’s budget – has crashed, only to recover a few years down the road.
“What if the state recovers?” Travers said. “What if the governor says ‘Let’s not make these second-year cuts?
“I have faculty and staff right now who are walking on eggshells,” she said. “Everybody is nervous about if their position is going to be on the chopping block.”
Along with sports, another factor being considered is how the cuts would affect academics at the college – what the potential loss of instructors and programs could mean for students.
“As we’ve looked at these cuts, we’ve really looked at our students – how this impacts our students,” Travers said. “There are going to be some impacts to students. There’s no way we can avoid it.
“But I can say, 100% of our people on this campus care about our students,” she said. “The two big things we’re looking at for this fall is to look at [enrollment] numbers – to keep those where they’ve been or increase them – and to provide the same services we have been. A few of those [plans] are going to be pretty darned creative.”