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CWC slashes nearly $1M; fundraiser's position eliminated

May 20, 2012 - By Joshua Scheer, Staff Writer

After more than two hours of discussion May 16, the Central Wyoming College Board of Trustees approved a revised preliminary budget that makes room for cuts directed by Gov. Matt Mead.

The $936,000 in cuts made for the next two years include the elimination of the position of dean for institutional advancement, which is currently held by Dane Graham.

The budget discussion also spurred a spontaneous executive session for "avoiding potential litigation."

In April, Mead announced that Wyoming agencies should expect about an 8 percent funding cut in fiscal year 2014 because of falling natural gas prices. CWC administration decided to begin making those cuts in the fiscal year 2013 budget.

Graham's position was the focus of much of the evening's work. He was in attendance but did not speak to the budget issue.

Foundation ties

CWC president Jo Anne McFarland said cutting the position and its $99,000 salary will help the college focus its funds on the school's top priority: students.

Graham's job is leading the Central Wyoming College Foundation in fundraising.

The foundation is a separate entity and not directly tied to the college other than in the dean's salary and fostering donations and grants for CWC.

McFarland said that in 2004 the college was asked to help supplement the dean's salary. Through 2009, she said, 50 percent of the position's salary was paid for by the college. In 2010 and 2011, the college paid the full salary. McFarland said the foundation requested the help on a "temporary basis."

"The arrangement has been on a year-to-year basis," she said. "That is a luxury we can no longer afford."

Board chairman Caroline Mills asked if there had been a discussion with the foundation board to see if it could fund Graham's position as it had in the past.

"We didn't discuss in any detail of any of those arrangements," McFarland said of her meeting with the foundation.

Trustee Scott Phister asked what the foundation board's reaction was when McFarland gave them the news.

"There really wasn't much of a reaction," she said. "I think they took it in stride. ... One foundation member indicated he hated to see that happen, but he understood."

McFarland also said on average, the foundation brings to the college about $193,000 each year.

Difficult decision

Phister and trustee Frank Welty said it might hurt the college's ability to bring in money by eliminating the position.

By removing the dean for institutional advancement position, the board cut $198,000 from the budget through both years. The administration then added $50,000 per year to the proposed budget for existing staff to pursue grants.

Before taking a vote, trustee Colton Crane asked if he could step to the side to ask board attorney Frank Watkins a question.

"I feel I may have a conflict of interest in this vote," Crane said.

Watkins said he couldn't be pulled aside, but a closed-to-the-public executive session could be called, though a topic needed to be announced.

Crane said it would be for "avoiding potential litigation."

With regard to lawsuits, Wyoming statutes state an executive session may be called "on matters concerning litigation to which the governing body is a party or proposed litigation to which the governing body may be a party."

The board was in executive session for roughly 10 minutes following a five-minute recess.

After returning and brief additional conversation, the board approved the budget 5-2, with Welty and Judy Pedersen voting no.

"This has been the most difficult vote I've had to consider," Crane said, adding that it was enough to make him think about leaving the board. "Our attorney has determined I do not have a conflict of interest."

He said he considers Graham a friend.

In an interview after the meeting, Crane said his comments were made in the "heat of the moment."

"I do not have any intent of leaving the board," he said.

He also said he trusts the work the administration put into the budget.

Crane would not comment on whether he asked for the executive session to be called because of his friendship with Graham.

"I will be in touch with the foundation board shortly to see what can be done," Crane told the board. "I think it's a crying shame if (Graham's) not able to continue his work in this area."

Crane is the board's liaison to the foundation.

Other details

The college cut $145,000 per year in line items college-wide, as recommended by various budget managers.

Scholarship funding was reduced $10,000 each year, but the total is still $13,000 above what was approved for the current year.

Not filling an information technology position that is being vacated will save $126,000 during the biennium.

Other cuts are being made to discretionary funds, some overtime and printing and telephone services.

The board also approved the renewal of its optional 1 mill levy, through which the college has saved roughly $4 million in reserves.

Building

"How can we continue to build, build, build?" Pedersen asked associate vice president for administrative service Ron Granger.

Granger has been the lead in compiling the budget for the biennium.

Pedersen said doing the remodel projects in Riverton and Lander, as well as pursing the construction of additional dormitories, seemed irresponsible when keeping up maintenance on existing buildings is difficult.

"If you can't take care of what you have, don't build more," she said.

Per state cuts, $204,000 is being removed from the major maintenance funds.

Pedersen said she doesn't believe students will want to live on campus in the near future. She said she thinks students would rather take online courses.

She also said she doesn't think it's right for the college to force students who already live in Riverton to live in the dorms.

Granger and McFarland both expressed disagreement.

Welty supported Pedersen's desire to delay some construction projects.

State encouragement

At the beginning of the discussion, Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, spoke to the board about the state cuts Mead requested in light of falling natural gas prices.

"It's a beautiful day in Wyoming, and let's keep that in mind as we go into this one," he said.

The "double whammy" Bebout said he is afraid of is the state might need to dip into the general fund for K-12 education, which constitutionally it cannot cut from.

"The governor has asked for the government to face an 8 percent cut," he said. "I think this is a very real situation."

Bebout also told the board that it was doing the right thing by including the 2014 cuts in fiscal year 2013.