PENDLETON — By a 5-2 vote, the Blue Mountain Community College Board of Education approved reducing the college’s staff by 14 positions, including seven layoffs, at a special board meeting on Friday, April 30.
The move represented a slight improvement from a previous projection that anticipated 11 layoffs as a part of 16 staff reductions, but BMCC administrators maintained the cuts needed to happen so the college could stabilize itself as it attempts to recover from a sustained period of declining enrollment exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
BMCC will lay off five supervisory employees that covered areas like grants, student success, admissions and marketing. The college is also laying off a business instructor and a web content specialist.
“This is a really hard list,” interim President Connie Green said. “These are real people with real lives that made an impact on students.”
After the meeting, Green said the college was able to reduce layoffs and position eliminations by negotiating with the union and also permanently cutting some unfilled positions from the budget.
While only one faculty member is being laid off, the college is cutting six vacant teaching positions in subjects like math, Spanish and biology in addition to one administrative position.
Board Chair Jane Hill gave the college’s two union presidents time to make brief remarks. Pete Hernberg, the president of the Blue Mountain Faculty Association, used his time to try to save the business instructor’s job.
Hernberg argued that eliminating the position would actually lose the college $280,000 instead of saving them money due to a loss of enrollment resulting from a decrease in business offerings to students.
“This is extremely damaging to our students,” he said.
John Fields, the college’s vice president of instruction, said there was a “difference in interpretations” of what the college would lose or gain from laying off business faculty, while Hill defended the administration’s recommendation.
“We have a job to provide stability,” she said.
Board member Kim Puzey suggested the college solicit donations from the college’s unions or start GoFundMe pages to help save the positions.
“I’m throwing any noodle that’ll stick to avoid losing this much talent,” he said.
But Green said BMCC needed to look for a way to sustainably operate, and while fundraising drives could help in the short term, it couldn’t offer a long-term solution for the college’s fiscal issues.
After about a 30-minute discussion, the board voted 5-2 to approve the staffing cuts. Puzey and board member Heidi Van Kirk voted against the motion.
The latest round of staff reductions nearly completes a rough 12-month period for BMCC. The college cut 23 positions in May 2019, five positions from its corrections education program earlier this spring, and now another 14 reductions.
In an interview after the meeting, Green said she understood the impact the cuts would have on the services the college offers and morale.
But she added that the restructuring the college is making at the supervisory level and the new initiatives BMCC is starting would put the college on the path to success.
“BMCC is choosing opportunities over closing,” she said.