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College mulls eliminating position at canyon center

May 21, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Adoption of the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2015 will take place Wednesday.

A proposed reduction in force at Central Wyoming College has generated disapproval from members of the local community.

During a budget hearing May 7, human resources officials at CWC suggested eliminating the assistant coordinator position held by Frank Berch at the Sinks Canyon Center in Lander.

Formal adoption of the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2015 will take place during a regular board meeting Wednesday.

Berch covers maintenance at the center and coordinates events such as weddings, retreats and public school visits to the facility.

Jen Rey, executive director for human resources, said the proposal to eliminate his position aligns with the school's strategic priorities.

"It's not a commentary in any way on the employee in the job or the quality of work they do," she told the CWC Board of Trustees.

She explained that each employee is seen as an investment in CWC's future. Every year, she tries to determine whether those investments are helping the college achieve its institutional goals.

The proposal to eliminate Berch's position was based on several factors, Rey continued. First, she said the job was meant to be funded "for the most part" through revenues at the Sinks Canyon Center, but the facility does not actually generate any money for the school.

"That auxiliary is still not breaking even," she said. "It operates at a loss."

She also thinks that sufficient staff exists at the center to accommodate current programs without Berch. Adjunct employees and workforce training coordinators also can help with outdoor education programs, she said, and two other assistant outreach coordinators work at the SCC.

"We think we have all of the aspects covered and that there will be no loss in programmatic purposes," Rey said.

She pointed out that the SCC is trying to incorporate more academic programs and is moving away from the workforce training/community education model.

"Not that we won't do those things, but we want a primary focus to be on academic programs," she said.

Finally, she said CWC is attempting to centralize its support services like housing management and property maintenance so those employees all report to one person. She plans to move a full-time maintenance technician to the SCC to replace Berch.

"For all of those reasons we think eliminating the assistant outreach coordinator at the Sinks Canyon Center is the right thing to do at this juncture," she said.

Backlash

Trustee Colton Crane has been on the CWC Board for about five years, and he said he has never received more e-mails about one topic than he has regarding Berch's position.

"There are some influential people from Lander who are pretty upset about this," he said. "Obviously some are good friends with him and think he's a great guy."

Others talked about Berch's institutional knowledge and experience with programs at the SCC, Crane said. Berch has worked at CWC for more than two decades.

"Is cutting this position going to sacrifice some of the things we've been doing up there for years and years?" Crane asked.

Rey said she asked Berch that same question. He reportedly told her he spends about 3 percent of his time on academic programs and about 10 percent of his time on non-academic services for the community.

"So we're talking about a very small part of this particular position that is programmatic," she said. "And we believe we have a plan to cover all of the non-programmatic (duties)."

Crane asked her "how sure" she was about the last statement.

"Standing here?" she asked. "Sure."

Campus morale

Several professional staff members at CWC have contacted their association president Connie Nyberg to express concern about Berch's position.

"I know these are tough decisions, and I know Jen explained quite well the decision-making regarding that," Nyberg said during the board's budget meeting. "All I can say is, it is tough when it's affecting somebody's life -- somebody we know so well who's been with us a long time. ... These decisions do affect people, and they do affect morale campus-wide."

She thanked the board for keeping the budgeting process open and transparent, but Berch, who spoke after Nyberg, disagreed with that characterization.

"I would argue that the budget process is not as transparent as you are led to believe," he told the trustees. "All of this is moving way too fast."

Berch said Rey told him about the decision to eliminate his position only one hour before "going public" with her recommendation to the school's leadership team April 22.

"The two supervisors of my position (didn't) even know what was going on," he said.

His co-workers and superiors quickly responded to advocate for him, Berch continued, and on April 29 he submitted a report outlining his contributions to CWC's strategic plan. He said the document described "how things are going to fall apart" if he loses his job.

Berch initially was hired as CWC's physical plant director in 1993, and he held that position for almost 14 years, also managing campus safety. In "the early years" when the SCC had a caretaker on site, that staff member reported to Berch.

"We worked to put in the existing cabins, build a shower house and remodel Fremont Hall," he said. "I was very involved in the operational needs of the center."

He described water quality issues and bridge repairs that he helped address in Sinks Canyon. Later, he said, he helped develop the strategic plan and initiatives at CWC. In spring 2006, he said he was part of a competitive marketing brainstorming session during which he suggested the school take advantage of its access to wilderness areas by developing an outdoor education program.

"I took off my facilities hat and put on my educator hat, (and) I was appointed interim instructor in outdoor education and leadership," he said.

When a permanent employee took over the program, Berch said he became caretaker at the SCC, and for the past seven years he has been stationed at the site working on projects from fiber-optics installation to building construction and orchard upkeep. He has worked with local schools to develop customized field trips, and he said he also serves as a researcher and keeper of the center's history.

"My perfect fit with my background in facilities management blended with my intimate knowledge of the outdoor education program (was) a win-win for me personally, and I believe for the college as an institution," he said, adding, "I am compelled -- forced -- to brag. There is no one who has more working and practical background of the SCC property than me. You have it all with me. You get a two-for-one deal with me and sometimes more."

He said he has contacted community members and local officials asking them to share their perspective on the issue, but their comments regarding "the adverse effects" of the elimination of his position have "gone unheeded."

"Regrettably, this issue has now had to move into the political arena," he said, advising the board to ask "direct and detailed questions" during the budget process. "The future of the SCC and the role it plays in the Lander community and in Fremont County falls upon you."

Raises

Administrators have requested a 2 percent base salary increase for CWC employees this year, but faculty president Matt Herr cautioned the board about giving raises while also approving reductions in force.

"As we look to ... adjust compensation -- which is exactly what I think we should be looking at -- I think we need to be very careful about eating ourselves," he said.

Some of the 2 percent increase will be funded by the state, but the rest will be covered by CWC. Rey explained that Wyoming funded the base raise, but the actual dollar amount that goes to each college is pro-rated based on local funding.

"So we don't actually get (all of the) 2 percent," she said.

School employees have not had a raise in their base salaries since a 1 percent increase was approved in 2012. The last base increase before that came in 2009.

Trustee Scott Phister asked how administrators found the money to fund the 2 percent raise. Rey said department heads considered their budgets carefully to make room for the increase.

"People look at positions and determine, 'Maybe I don't need this one anymore,'" she said.

Phister said he was glad to see the raise request.

"It's priorities, I guess," he said.

Administrators also recommended a 2.5 percent step increase in compensation for a total raise of 4.5 percent for CWC employees.

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Central Wyoming College
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