Lane Community College is trimming fat as it asks voters to OK a $121.5 million bond that would expand career technology education and tackle much-needed maintenance.
Voters will decide the fate of the bond in the May primary election. As LCC asks for this voter investment, it’s cutting redundant administrative positions and selling underused property.
LCC Board of Education member Rosie Pryor says enrollment spiked during the Great Recession, but now that the economy is doing better, enrollment is down.
“That means tuition is down, state funding is down,” she says. “For the entire time I’ve been on the board, we have struggled to close gaps in the budget.”
Over those years of lower enrollment, LCC’s Board of Education has struggled to find money for the school’s facilities, Pryor adds.
The board has raised tuition, though, and LCC is one of most expensive Oregon community colleges. But Pryor says the board has prioritized students and the classroom when balancing the budget. As a result, the college has built up a $90 million facilities maintenance deficit.
When Pryor and LCC President Margaret Hamilton met with Eugene Weekly Jan. 14 to talk about the bond, they said they planned to seek $145 million. Pryor says that at that time, she wanted to chip away at the 2019 Facilities Master Plan, which identifies a $230 million total need.
But at the bond campaign’s kick off event Jan. 21, Board Chair Mike Eyster said the amount was whittled down after hearing that taxpayers were concerned about the tax increase.
The bond would cost residential property owners about $3 a month — slightly less than a slice of pizza.
If the bond passes, the state would chip in a one-time contribution of $8 million, which would go toward a new health facility at LCC, according to Brett Rowlett, the college’s director of public affairs. The bond can’t be used on faculty.
Pryor says the LCC board is asking for voter support because the college has 40 different career and technical programs the college has to keep up-to-date with, otherwise the college is training for “21st-century fields with 20th-century technology and equipment.”
A chunk of the bond would be spent on safety and security expenses, such as meeting seismic standards, making improvements to protect students and faculty in case of school-based violence, and creating accessibility additions to old buildings.
“We’ve already had one community college school shooting in Oregon,” Pryor says, referring to the 2014 Umpqua Community College shooting, “and we are advised by the experts that there are a number of things that community colleges in Oregon need to do to make the campus safer.”
The bulk of the money would go toward updating facilities for the college’s in-demand career and technical education and workforce retraining. This includes expanding health profession education programs into a new facility, renovating the Wellness Building and purchasing nursing education interactive technology.
Portions of the bond would also go toward creating a manufacturing technology center and a mobile fabrication lab that could travel to remote areas, modernizing science labs, replacing audiovisual equipment and creating a cyber security lab.
When executing the college’s facilities master plan, the LCC Board voted unanimously on Dec. 18, 2019, to follow a community benefits agreement (CBA).
Among other priorities, the CBA emphasizes using local businesses and contractors that offer prevailing wages and benefits, diversity and equity in the workplace, and incorporate sustainability objectives in design and construction.
While the college is asking for voters to help expand and take on the college’s facilities backlog and expanding courses, LCC is cutting some of its expenses, including selling property, gutting administrative bloat and privatizing its bookstore.
“We are always looking for ways to combing programs and services across campus in meaningful and efficient ways,” says Paul Jarrell, a provost and executive vice president at the college.
Jarrell adds that the college has found several areas where there are vacancies, so it’s possible to cut positions without terminating employees.
“As a result of reorganization, we have managed to reduce staffing in all employee groups,” he says. “Our goal is to become more efficient, reducing costs in the long run, to mitigate budget concerns.”
Jarrell says the college isn’t aiming for a specific dollar amount to cut, “just looking for efficiencies wherever we can.”
Money from the cuts goes to the general fund, he adds.
The college is also selling some of its property in Florence to a developer. The city of Eugene is currently in talks with LCC to buy the downtown campus building, which could become affordable housing.
LCC privatized its Titan Store, which Illinois-based Follett took over in August. The change in ownership means that in the first year, the college would see a positive revenue stream of at least $300,000 and a one-time payment of $200,000, according to board documents.
At LCC’s Nov. 18 board meeting, a line item listed as “other revenue” from the projected 2020 fiscal year budget estimates an increase of $1 million from the sale of the old downtown center and Follett contract.
Hamilton says that over the past few years, the board has committed to “cost saving measures” that are going to help make the budget more sustainable. She says she’s even told student leadership that the board will do everything it can to not raise tuition.
Although LCC’s main operations are in Eugene, Hamilton says the benefits of investing in the college’s career training classes benefits everyone in the county.
“Your family needs to go to school,” she says, recalling a conversation with a rural Lane County resident. “Your family needs our nurses and our welders and our carpenters.”