By Les Zaitz
ONTARIO – Dennis Gill, an English instructor at Treasure Valley Community College, says he’s doing everything he can to help the college thrive.
That’s why in 2015 he taught classes, served as chair of the department, taught summer school and then took on even more classes.
He got paid for all that, earning total compensation of $170,000 that year. That made him to the top paid employee at the college, one of 16 to earn $100,000 or more that year.
“I’m trying very hard to keep our enrollment up,” said Gill, who has worked for the college 25 years.
College officials last month disclosed the 2015 pay of every employee. They acted in response to a public records request by a Florida-based group trying to round up government salary information from across the country.
No other rural community college in Oregon has any many employees making $100,000 or more a year, based on information gathered by the Malheur Enterprise.
Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton and Klamath Community College in Klamath Falls each listed four employees with six-figure incomes. Umpqua Community College in Roseburg listed three and Columbia Gorge Community College in The Dalles listed two.
The Treasure Valley disclosure comes as college officials prepare to cut more than $1 million from the current budget. They cite a shrinking student body and increasing costs.
Interviews with instructors, college officials and board members indicate the seemingly high pay for instructors such as Gill doesn’t mean they are getting overpaid. Instead, those interviewed said, some of the college’s most veteran instructors high on the pay scale have been taking on extra work. Under the faculty union contract, they are to be paid extra for such work.
“These people work really, really hard,” said Gill. “If you didn’t pay us, you’d pay somebody else to do the same thing.”
Roger Findley, a Treasure Valley college board member and former instructor, said he wasn’t surprised by the pay list.
“They’ve done more than what their base salary requires and teaching more than their standard load,” Findley said.
Gerry Hampshire, a history instructor employed at the college since 2002, noted that instructors who take on extra work are making money for the college.
“It looks like I’m making a lot of money but I’m producing,” said Hampshire, who was chair of his department in 2015 and also was paid to develop online classes. He earned $129,397 in 2015.
“Even our highest-paid faculty members are producing more income than their cost,” he said.
Christina Trunnell, library director and president of the Treasure Valley Education Association, said that “we have fewer faculty for the number of students, so more faculty are teaching over their 15-credit load … We don’t have enough faculty to cover all the classes.”
Trunnell said the faculty union was happy to see the college salary information. She said the union has asked about base salary information “for a long time. They won’t share it with us.”
College officials couldn’t immediately address Trunnell’s comment.
Trunnell said one reason instructors take on bigger classes or more classes is because adjunct – part-time – instructors are hard to recruit for Treasure Valley. She said low pay for them is one reason.
“We don’t have adjuncts,” Trunnell said. “We can’t find them. We’re paying regular faculty to teach summer school.”
Findley said one factor was the opening of the College of Western Idaho, which cut into the pool of part-time instructors available for the Ontario school.
Mark Wettstein, college board chairman, said he wasn’t surprised by the salary list. He said he hopes its disclosure “will help people understand that we’re at a point we can’t continue to fund these folks at the rate we have been.”
He said he isn’t sure how Treasure Valley’s pay stacks up against other community colleges but assumes it is competitive.
“If salary was a problem, people would be leaving and going other places,” Wettstein said. “The faculty, for the most part, has apparently been pretty content. They’re not leaving.”
He said payroll costs have to be addressed because the school can’t continue increasing tuition to balance the books.
“We’re doing it on the backs of the students,” Wettstein said. “You just can’t keep raising tuition. That might be part of the reason enrollment is down.”
Reversing the decline in enrollment that started in 2010 is vital, college officials and instructors say. How to do that isn’t clear, faculty say.
“We don’t have a plan. We don’t have a vision,” said Hampshire.
Gill said that dropping classes or limiting when they can be offered likely hurts enrollment.
“It’s like a store without enough merchandise. Pretty soon, you quit shopping there,” he said.
Wettstein said there is no question the college has to change to boost enrollment and cover costs.
“We can’t operate in the red,” he said.
By Les Zaitz