CALAIS – The cuts were deep and painful – teachers are gone and programs are being either canceled or retooled – as Washington County Community College prepares to begin a new college year.
President Bill Cassidy said Wednesday he had to cut more than $500,000 from his nearly $6 million budget. Two teachers, one administrator and two administrative support people have lost their jobs. Four other employees have had their hours reduced. The college has about 60 employees.
“Similarly we’ve had reductions across the college as in the bookstore and the cafeteria and our maintenance custodial crew,” Cassidy said.
The shortfall is being blamed on state funding not keeping pace with rising costs, flat enrollment and escalating costs in fuel, health care rates, retirement and other operating expenses.
“This is not a college in crisis, this is a college in transition. That’s what we are,” Cassidy said.
The boat building program is going to move from its digs in Eastport to the former construction shop on the Calais campus. Cassidy said it would save the college more than $160,000 in operating costs.
“We don’t have the funds to sustain the overhead,” Cassidy said. “It is necessary then to collapse our infrastructure to allow us to continue to deliver the educational offerings.”
The president said relocating the program to Calais meant he did not have to make cuts in other programs. The boat building program will begin the school year with one instructor instead of two.
It has been a tough two years for the boat building program. Boat building has been part of Maine’s economy since the 17th century, yet in 2004, the college program that trains students for the industry was placed on hold to allow college officials time to retool the curriculum. College officials blamed the one-year shutdown on poor enrollment.
In December, the college began advertising for students for the new program and 17 students applied. Cassidy said moving to the Calais campus will attract more traditional-age college students because of access to college dorms.
The Eastport facility is not for sale.
Cassidy said he has had talks with Eastport’s city manager. “City Manager Bud Finch has posed why don’t we work on identifying a boat building company that we might bring to this campus in Eastport,” he said. “In an incubator kind of way. Start a business that would in fact create jobs, support the marine industry and local economy and serve as instructional aid to us in apprenticeships and jobs.” Cassidy said he thought that was a good idea.
The commercial truck driving license program, which is a subsection of the college’s heavy equipment operations program, is gone.
Programs that will be retooled are: food and hospitality, computer application, business studies and education tech programs.
Instructor Marie Emerson’s popular food and hospitality program will take a significant hit. Three programs – dietary management, associate degree and the food and hospitality diploma program – will be put on hold for a year. He said the college planned to tap industry experts as well as educators to help retool those programs.
Cassidy said the school also has to do a better job of retaining students. He said after they get students in the door, they need to look at ways to keep them. “We’re a small school and we need to make sure we can support our infrastructure,” he said. “Community colleges are about giving people a chance and an opportunity.”
If they were working with a healthy state budget, Cassidy said, the college could continue to operate programs while retooling them.
State appropriations to the Maine Community College System rose by a net 3.1 percent from $40.2 million in 2002 to $41.5 million in 2005. Enrollment during the same three-year period jumped by 3,700 students to 10,188.
The system had requested a 6 percent increase in state funds for 2006, but instead received a 2.58 percent increase for a total of $42.5 million. The amount was about $3.3 million short of what the system needed to keep abreast of rising costs.