By John L. Braese
ONTARIO – Facing a budget shortfall, Treasure Valley Community College took the initial step last week to lay off staff and do away with programs at the local college.
The process to complete the staff layoffs has gone into high gear with a special board meeting scheduled for Thursday.
President Dana Young has warned for weeks that the college has to make dramatic changes to account for declining enrollment and rising costs.
She made good on her warnings, triggering layoff notices for six long-time faculty.
The notices were delivered by mail and email and reached various departments. Those receiving the bad news were instructors Dustin Mason, computer department Melissa Vargas, English department; Rebecca RePlogle, music department; Claire Holderman, foreign languages; Greg Borman, math department; and Kevin Campbell, welding.
If the college goes through with the decision to eliminate their positions, they could get other teaching jobs on the campus, according to Eddie Alves, vice president of academic affairs.
College administrators met with the employees Monday morning to explain the circumstances.
“People were angry,” said Gerry Hampshire, president of the Treasure Valley Education Association, the faculty union.
“It was extremely frustrating,” said Holderman, one of the six. “The administration had no documentation on why I was being let go.”
Holderman said she can document that her classes bring in $170,000 to the college and enrollment is up 50 percent in her classes this year.
“We didn’t get any answer to a lot of the questions we asked today,” said Campbell, another instructor on the list. “The administration said they would get back to us before the Feb. 20 meeting of the board.”
Young didn’t return telephone messages Monday about the meeting.
Three of the six employees designated for termination have been representing the union in recent contract negotiations, according to Hampshire.
“Two are union officers and one is on the bargaining team,” Hampshire said. “The administration’s latest retrenchment actions are being used to intimidate, harass, discriminate and retaliate against teachers that have joined in lawful labor activities and to influence negotiations.”
The cuts require approval from the college board.
“Just sending out the letters does not mean each cut will happen,” said John Forsyth, board president. “The board will talk about doing away with programs and evaluate each. This is a business decision.”
The union is concerned the faculty cuts could go even deeper. Pointing to provisional faculty, the union expects an additional six staff could lose their jobs. The college would announce such cuts next month.
If that happened, Hampshire said, the college would lose one-third of its instructors.
Hampshire said if the cuts are implemented, TVCC would be the only community college in the state without a full time foreign language or computer science instructor.
Young said no decision has been made on provisional employees, but there is no mistaking the seriousness of last week’s actions.
Endi Hartigan, communications director for the state Higher Education Coordinating Commission, said the agency doesn’t collect information on retrenchment for community colleges. She said an informal poll last week at a community college gathering showed that several other community colleges in the state have gone through the process to balance budgets.
Hartigan said that Southern Oregon University and Eastern Oregon University also laid off staff using the retrenchment process several years ago.
“This is a business decision,” Young said. “The college needs to repurpose the programs not growing and shift staff in programs not performing. We need to meet the needs of what students want.”
“The denial of programs and classes and the open disrespect by the board towards students at the January meeting makes it very clear that the administration and board care little or nothing at all for the welfare of students, the college or community,” Hampshire countered.
Music, one of the programs facing elimination, survived last year only after an outpouring of student and community support.
“The community said it wanted a music program and we gave it a chance,” said Forsyth. “The stipulation was that it had to build and become sustainable. It has not.”
Students currently in the programs need not worry, according to Alves. The college is obligated to give students classes they need to finish a degree.
“Classes will be here in some form,” he said, perhaps using adjunct instructors.
Though the college plans to lay off its welding instructor, the program could continue through local high schools.
Young said the welding program is being dropped on campus because the building housing it is going to close for remodeling. The remodeling could take two years.
Young said the college is looking at local high schools to continue welding in some form. Local companies also frequently use the college’s welding equipment and training to update employees.
Campbell said that he wasn’t surprised by the letter last week notifying him his job was in jeopardy. In the last year, he had the feeling something was not right.
“There have been certain things administration has said in the past year that led me to think I was on my way out,” he said. “I had students come to me and tell me administration had asked them to sign up for other programs, not welding.”
Campbell said he planned for the renovation of his shop and offered ideas how to continue the program.
“I submitted a plan for moving cargo containers onto campus and using them as welding units,” he said. “At the end of the renovation, the college could sell the containers.”
After 27 years of educating welders, Campbell said the layoff would force him to move out of the area.
“I don’t want to leave, but it is a matter of finances,” he said. “I took a cut in pay to come here to allow my daughter to finish high school. I like working with students, but I have to make a living.”
For one of those on the list, the retrenchment notice changes a lifetime of plans.
Holderman moved with her family to Ontario in 1982, graduating from Ontario High School in 1995. She then left the area but returned with her husband in 2005 and started teaching at the college three years later.
“We came back to this community because we have close friends and family here,” she said. “We wanted to raise our children in the same community we were raised.”
She was hired full time in 2011, teaching foreign languages and developmental writing.
Holderman said she developed an online class for first-year Spanish, a course including students from Umpqua Community College and Chemeketa Community College.
Holderman and her husband, Ryder, are active in the community, serving on local school committees and volunteering.
“My passion is my family.” Holderman said. “My husband and my children, Sydney and Isaac, are the most important things in my life.”
The road to her profession wasn’t easy. The native of Sweden learned she needed a master’s degree in Spanish to teach in Ontario, taking online courses to meet the requirements. She left her family behind in 2009 t spend time in Mexico to finish her degree requirements.
“It was a huge sacrifice, but I was so thankful that I did it,” she said. “I have loved teaching Spanish and French at the college.”
Holderman said her future is a question mark. She spent last weekend filing resumes for 10 positions she found open around the country.
“My husband will close his veterinary practice and we will leave the area,” she said. “The city will lose the taxes we pay and the community will lose all the support my husband has provided in donations and care he has provided.”
The move will mean something Holderman had never considered until the letter arrived.
“Twenty years from now, I planned on living in the house I live in now, enjoying my grandkids and on the verge of retirement from TVCC,” she said. “Now, I do not know what my future holds and how that will affect my husband and children. It is very scary.”