Program Cuts Spark Backlash

By Aleksi Lepisto in News

“It’s crap.”

That was one director’s response to the ten percent cut to program director stipends decided by an ASCC committee in the initial 2014-15 program budget allocations.

The new budget would also increase the Services & Activities fee to the state maximum of $7.45 per credit, according to an email sent to program directors by ASCC finance director Wilson Halimuddin.

The fee is paid by each student who attends Clark and is a percentage of the total fees paid each quarter. The proposed budget is set to appear before the college Board of Trustees for final approval. Program directors are given the chance to appeal the allocations by the committee starting April 24.

Since the revenue generated by the fee depends on student enrollment, which has been declining, the S&A fee committee faced reconciling a $234,856 deficit by making cuts to some of the programs. This eventually included reducing all director stipends.

The reduction has not gone over well with many directors, who run the more than 30 existing S&A-funded programs like Archer Gallery, Model United Nations and Pep Band.

“It’s a bit insulting,” said former speech and debate program director Dave Kosloski, who stepped down last year in part because “it had become a different program than I had been hired to direct” and cited specifics like budget cuts and changes to how students enroll in the program.

During his time as director, Kosloski said his workload grew because the amount of paperwork required by the ASCC “honestly tripled.”

“I mean, between having to do two and sometimes three separate budget reports — so eventually we’ve gotten to the point now where we have to turn in a pre-budget request, then our budget request, and then we have to turn in quarterly reports about how our program is doing — we didn’t have to do any of that when I first started 15 years ago,” Kosloski said.

He also said that stipends were due for an increase because they had not been adjusted for inflation or cost of living in nearly a decade.

According to a recent survey conducted by a faculty union bargaining subcommittee, 10 program directors provided itemized summaries of hours worked to support their programs. The average wage equivalent was $8.17 per hour. Some programs surveyed reported rates as low as $2.89 per hour. Washington’s minimum wage is $9.32 per hour.

According to an email from David Johnson, an Employment Standards Technical Specialist with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, minimum wage and overtime laws do not apply to the stipends program directors are given if they are salaried employees of the college and are taking on additional duties.

The college pays faculty an alternative wage, sometimes called an “other” wage, of $31.30 per hour for work done outside of their normal contract duties, like serving on college committees, said Vice President of Instruction Tim Cook. That doesn’t include ASCC programs, which are funded separately.

“I’m not sure the committee has a clear understanding of the work that’s being done by the program directors,” said Gene Biby, who runs the Theatre Program.

“The perception is that our work is not valued enough,” he said. “I’m worth $4.22 an hour.”

Voting members on the committee were forced to make hard choices, said committee chair Anthony Bittner. “I mean, the very first order of business was, ‘should we raise student fees?’ And that was a difficult decision right off the bat.”

He said cutting stipends was a last resort to eliminate the final portion of the deficit.

“What we tried to do is do it responsibly,” Bittner said. “We’ll increase fees — our revenue — and then at the very end, after we had already touched programs and we still weren’t there … that’s when we looked at stipends.”

“Our position was not ‘let’s cut the stipends with glee,’” he said. “It was, ‘I really wish there was another way besides cutting stipends.’”

Opinions about stipend cuts were divided, with some sentiments pushing toward a higher 30 percent cut, and some opting for no cut.

“Ten [percent] was kind of a compromise that was struck on the committee,” Bittner said.

More than just the money

“I don’t think it’s about the money, I think it’s about the message,” said faculty union president Kimberly Sullivan. “There is a point where someone’s love for their work begins feeling like exploitation.”

Kathrena Halsinger, one of the directors of the Phoenix — the college’s art and literary magazine — said she took the position because of a vacancy, not because she was counting on making more money.

“There has never been — since I started this program — any consideration to do this because it was additional income,” she said.

The effect of the cut is demoralizing, said orchestra director Don Appert. “How would you feel after 24 years of building to improve something and then they’d say that well, they don’t think they should fund it to the full extent anymore?”

Some directors claimed that the cuts to their programs will require more work of them, which they said makes a stipend reduction even more senseless.

Appert isn’t as concerned with his stipend as he is with the survival of the program, which he said is already running on a “bare-bones budget.” The orchestra recently won third place in the American Prize for Orchestra Performance, but Appert worries that the program won’t withstand additional cuts.

“They’re cutting my program 25 percent,” he said.

This is two years after Appert said the orchestra budget was cut by close to 20 percent, which he appealed without success.

Directors are allowed to appeal decisions made by the committee but appeals aren’t handled by a third party like court appeals.

“There’s always this sort of asterisk at the bottom of your budget that says ‘if you want to appeal this you can;’ the problem with that is you’re appealing to the same people who denied your original request,” Kosloski said.

He isn’t the only one who takes issue with appealing the allocations.

“Honestly, my experience from appealing the last time is that you go and present your appeal and they look at you and say, ‘Well we’ve already made the decision,’” Appert said. He said he wished that there was more of a dialogue between directors and the committee so changes could be made more effectively.

Bittner acknowledged there are issues with the way appeals are handled currently, but said changes to the bylaws would need to be made in order to allow another party to handle them. He also said there would need to be substantial time and training allowances to bring another committee up to speed on the intricacies of the budget.

Bittner said some directors, although appealing their allocation decisions, didn’t show up to their allocation meetings with the committee.

“A lot of times if you don’t show up to be involved in the process you don’t like the outcome,” he said, although he respects the right for directors to appeal.

This year, there is $2,000-3,000 left in the budget after the stipend cuts that can be allocated to programs through the appeal process, which Bittner said he plans to do in order to soften the impact cuts may have had, but he can’t speak for the committee regarding the allocation of those funds.

He also took personal responsibility for the apparent lack of communication between the committee and program directors during their allocation meetings, and said he appreciates their contributions and doesn’t want directors to feel slighted by a stipend reduction.

Bittner said he understands the frustration that many directors have voiced. He also said the committee did not take the decisions lightly, especially regarding stipend reductions.

The committee could have balanced the deficit by cutting entire programs, but according to Bittner, that wasn’t a good solution.

“What I was trying to do was to not kneecap any programs to where they couldn’t function,” he said. “If we had it our way, we would have increased funding to every program.”

None of the budget increases requested by the programs were approved by the committee except for Child and Family Studies, which saw an increase in order to cover the jump in minimum wage, Bittner said. Some programs did not see a budget decrease.

After appeals, the budget will be submitted to the Board of Trustees for final approval.

Jack Burkman, a Vancouver City Council member who serves on the board said he looks for due diligence in the budget decision and “why they need to increase or what is the impact of a decrease in funds.”

A bigger debate

There might be a larger issue to resolve, too.

“Is it even legal for us to spend money on [paying directors with S&A money]?” Bittner said.

To answer that question, he said the committee requested the college’s auditor look into the S&A fee to find out if the current use of funds is legal.

A debate has sparked regarding the appropriate use of the S&A money and ties with instruction.

“ASCC money cannot mingle with instruction money. But the question has come up, about whether or not instructors who work as ASCC directors … isn’t that instructional?” Sullivan said.

In Bittner’s opinion, although he thinks programs are important, there isn’t a strong case for funding some of the co-curricular programs, which closely relate to instruction, with S&A money.

He said he thinks the intention of the S&A fee was to primarily fund “widespread services” like the C-Tran BackPASS, a discounted bus pass offered to Clark students.

He also objects to the allegation of insulting program directors by reducing stipends and said it feels like a “push to make it adversarial [with the committee], which is not how [the committee feels] at all. We are on their team.”

Bittner said he’s frustrated because his intentions were to be responsible with student money and fair with the allocations. He said he never intended for the decisions to be taken personally.

“That’s the part that’s frustrating for me,” Bittner said. “They’re coming and saying that they feel insulted and that just breaks my heart.”

“As far as morally, do I think that we should be contributing to help the directors? Yes I do,” he said. “As far as if it’s legal? I’m not convinced.”

Editor’s Note: The Independent was unable to get the proposed budgets for the programs by the time of this printing. Instead, we’ve contacted program directors to ask them to provide their budget allocations for us to publish. We have filed paperwork with the college to request that we be provided the allocations before appeals begin April 24.

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