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Chemeketa opts to lay off employees after governor proposes budget

Photo by Cecelia Love-Zhou

Last week, President Julie Huckestein announced that Chemeketa will not only choose not to fill 24 vacant positions but will be laying off seven employees at the start of the 2019–20 academic year.

The layoffs come as Chemeketa continues reacting to its budget crisis, caused by an enrollment decline over nearly a decade and possible cuts to community college funding in the state’s upcoming biennial budget.

“When we realized what the governor’s budget had for the biennium…which was 543 million, which was a 4.7% cut, and then when we realized the Department of Administrative Services, their budget, the CSL [Current Service Level] there was 590; we guessed that we would need to do that.”

Two of the employees, who now face unemployment come July 1, confirmed to The Courier that budget cuts were the reason they were given for their layoffs by their supervisors. However, one employee of over 30 years who spoke to The Courier on the condition of anonymity said, “I believe there’s more than just budget cuts.”

This source stated they wished to remain anonymous because they may still be able to find other employment on campus.

“When you’re starting to get into people who have been here long enough that they’re either close to retirement and they may not, probably, want to continue matching your PERS contributions,” said the anonymous source. “So, I think there’s a little more political stuff than…it is budget. But, it’s almost like the budget crisis is almost an excuse to do what they’re doing.”

PERS is Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System, which many of Oregon’s public institutions use to provide retirement funds to their employees. Many institutions have been unable to cover the cost of the system’s guaranteed returns on investment.

Kisha McIntosh, a part-time classified employee at the Polk Center, said she was informed of her termination by Polk Center President Glenn Miller—her supervisor—along with Human Resources Director Alice Sprague and Classified Employees Association President Terry Rohse.

The anonymous source, however, said they had a much different experience: “I was told over the phone. I had nobody, no person who came to my office and treated me like a human being.”

“Just like everybody else, we’ve had PERS increases and enrollment declines,” said Huckestein in an interview. “I’d say that it’s been a period of years coming. But, mostly, when we saw what the Governor was suggesting and what DAS [the Department of Administrative Services] was suggesting…we knew that it was possible unless we had enough vacancies or enrollment grew.”

“I think, in general, we don’t expect there to be any much direct impact on the student body,” Huckestein said.

But, both McIntosh and the anonymous source said otherwise. “This is going to be hard for us [the Polk Center] to absorb. I do quite a bit in the five hours a shift, four days a week. And we’re already feeling like we could use another person and now they’re going to have to go without,” said McIntosh.

McIntosh is a Department Technician II, or an Evening Office Assistant. “I schedule advising appointments, and placement and proctored testing appointments. I am also a certified proctor. I’m part registrar, part enrollment, and part financial aid,” said McIntosh.

“It’s going to affect them [students] greatly. There are a lot of little things that I do as well,” said the anonymous source, who is a Department Technician I on the Salem campus.

The school is facing its lowest enrollment in over a decade, and if the legislature adopts the recent budget proposal released by Governor Kate Brown, it may also be facing cuts to its state funding. Together, these financial factors have contributed to a crisis in budgeting that has been the reason for the college’s Board of Education to raise tuition and fees at its February meeting by a total of $10 per credit.

“You really never know from term to term, or even year to year, what’s going to happen. A lot of it is dependent on things that you can’t…can’t always guesstimate what’s going to happen,” said the anonymous source.

“I have no idea how much cushion this is going to give [the budget],” said McIntosh.

When asked how their layoffs would affect them, the anonymous source said, “Well, I only get paid 10 months out of the year. So now, I’m not only going to have to find work for summer, but I will have to find work…how am I going to pay bills in the summer? How is a single person…I mean, it’s going to be huge. It’s going to affect me hugely.”

“It’s not about the employees; it’s not about the students. It’s about the administration and how they can look good. I don’t think they’re really interested in the college and the students as much as they should be,” said the anonymous source.

“Everybody is a human being and to be treated like you’re just another dollar sign and, ‘we need to sweep you out of the way,’ isn’t right.”

However, McIntosh is hopeful to find full-time employment elsewhere in the college.

“For me, it’s going to affect me negatively within the college or outside of the college by June 30…but, I feel like it’s positive because since I was already looking for full-time work within the college.”

Huckestein said future layoffs could be a possibility. “If the legislature does not fund the college at 590 [million], and if the legislature passes the tuition freeze bill and if the legislature passes the unfunded mandates on collective bargaining, the college will have to go back and look to see what we can do about that,” she said.

Following The Courier’s interview with the anonymous source, the source emailed the interviewing reporter, “I want none of my comments listed in the Courier. And I hate to be firm about this, but if I read that you have used my name, shared any information with the Salem Reporter, or put anything in The Courier, we will have legal issues. I know that you are trying to do your job, but I think it will do more damage than good.”

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