By Pat Caldwell
ONTARIO – Roger Findley said he was more than a little surprised when he learned that Treasure Valley Community College was preparing to lay off six instructors.
The community learned about a plan to slash staff and programs – in a process dubbed “retrenchment” – last week and Findley said he found out about it from a Facebook post by the Malheur Enterprise. So did a lot of other people. But Findley believes he probably should have had a heads up a little sooner. That’s because he serves on the college board.
“I never guessed we’d retrench six positions,” said Findley.
Findley said at the January board meeting there was a brief discussion about retrenchment but no set plan was agreed upon.
“We probably didn’t spend five minutes on it,” said Findley.
Findley said further discussion of retrenchment was set for the board’s February meeting, scheduled for later this month.
Findley said he believes the layoff of six instructors – with another six possibly to face pink slips in the future – will be disastrous.
“I think it will gut the college. How are we supposed to attract students to our college and tell them everything is OK when we do this?” said Findley.
The news of the retrenchment plan was the latest in a running saga involving the college, its enrollment and budget woes. Even as the retrenchment plan became public, the college remained locked in labor negotiations with its faculty.
What is at stake isn’t just salaries and jobs but the future of a local education institution that serves students of all ages. Community colleges are often viewed as a gateway into higher education and are especially important in rural areas where economics often don’t allow some students to journey to a four-year college.
“They offer a chance to kids who can’t go off to a university,” said Riley Hill.
Hill, a local contractor, is president of Poverty to Prosperity. The Malheur County nonprofit furnishes training that is tied to regional labor needs to help students gain jobs after high school or college. TVCC is a key part of the Poverty to Prosperity blueprint because programs such as welding help students find a career.
Hill was out of town late last week when reached by telephone. He said he wasn’t aware of the retrenchment plan and didn’t want to speak on the record about how it could impact Poverty to Prosperity until he knew more.
Cathy Yasuda, executive director of the TVCC Foundation, said she was disappointed by the news.
“Being at the college for the past 29 years it has been a huge part of my life and I loved the work I’ve done. I see every day the benefits and worth the college provides our community and it saddens me terribly to see us in this situation,” said Yasuda.
Ontario Mayor Ron Verini said he didn’t know enough about the college’s budget situation to comment on it but he did admit TVCC is a cornerstone to the community.
“It is absolutely important, without a question. The college is one of those core values we have in our community,” said Verini.
Tasha Wixom, the director of student programs at the college, said she felt the college’s standing in the community has suffered.
“I think the damage has been done already with all the information and rumors floating around. I hate that that has happened. I am a big proponent for TVCC, obviously,” said Wixom.
Wixom said many students at the college are torn between the faculty and the administration.
“I think everyone is sympathetic where the faculty are coming from but I think we all see that operations can’t stay the way they are,” said Wixom.
Labor talks and the retrenchment plan create uncertainty, said Wixom.
“What will happen to my students? My programs? And how will all of this affect our students on campus?” said Wixom.
Wixom said while there may seem to be a lot of bad news around TVCC, the college will endure.
“TVCC is going to be here regardless of what takes place. The college will go on,” said Wixom.
Luke Braniff of Vale, a TVCC nursing student, said he believes he knows what is going on.
“Part of it, I think, is the administration backlashing at certain faculty members because they are stepping up against the administration,” said Braniff.
Braniff said he attended TVCC before entering the nursing program and agreed there is a cloud of uncertainty over students now.
“If the instructors do strike, how long will it last? How long will it affect us? Are we going to have to take off our summer vacation to make up hours? It is stressful,” said Braniff. Yusada said she hopes the faculty and administration can come to a quick compromise on labor negotiations.
“There is too much at stake here for the entire community,” said Yasuda.
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