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Trustees for Feather River College voted unanimously Friday, March 4, to reduce the school’s academic faculty by the equivalent of 2.5 positions. An additional position, in early childhood education (ECE), was saved after impassioned testimony from students, teachers, parents and staff during public comment.
The cuts include half-time equivalents in men’s basketball, women’s basketball and physical education, and a full-time equivalent in administrative office management.
The layoffs come as the college faces delayed payments and budget cuts at the state level. They are the first faculty layoff notices to be issued since the state budget crisis began.
Board chairman Bill Elliott cautioned the packed boardroom that the layoffs might not come to pass, but by law the college had to notify affected employees of the possibility by March 15. The school must make a final decision on the layoffs by May 15.
College president Dr. Ron Taylor called the action “precautionary, preliminary and a part — a small part — of the budget picture.”
Trustees voted down a similar proposal last year after an outcry by students and faculty. The men’s and women’s basketball and the office management positions were repeats from last year’s list.
At last week’s meeting, a dozen supporters spoke in defense of the ECE program. A number were graduates from local high schools who chose to remain in Plumas County so they could attend FRC and study in the program.
Shelley Miller, who runs the program, told trustees she was “baffled” by her program’s inclusion on the list of cuts. She said 83 percent of her students are local grads. Her program also boasts a very high employment rate. ECE “is part of the infrastructure of each and every community,” she said. “You can’t have economic development without early childhood education.”
Students testified to Miller’s power as a teacher. One, a Plumas Charter School graduate from Greenville, broke down in tears, saying she had just three classes to finish to graduate. The program “lets me be more than just a babysitter,” said another. “I can get a meaningful job right now,” said a student from Chester.
History instructor Tom Heaney, speaking as a parent, said his children went to child care facilities staffed by ECE grads. “They are vital to this community. Of all the programs on the list (of cuts), this one stands out for its connection of college to community.”
Biology instructor Anna Thompson noted that the proposed cuts disproportionately targeted programs that largely serve women — women’s basketball, ECE and office management — and called them “unfair.” She pointed out the importance of having trained child care workers in helping to identify and prevent child abuse and domestic violence.
Haley White, women’s basketball coach, defended her program. She reiterated Thompson’s concerns about women’s programs taking the brunt of the cuts. She noted that 69 percent of the school’s athletes were male and 31 percent were female, which is out of line with the overall student population.
White pointed out that athletes fill the dorms and the athletic center and make those ventures viable for the college.
After public comment, trustee John Schramel immediately motioned that the ECE position be removed from the list of possible cuts. He was quickly seconded by John Sheehan.
It took several attempts before there was a clear vote on the motion. Some trustees were unclear what they were voting on. Others gave garbled responses, leading chairman Elliott to twice declare that the motion had failed when, in fact, it had passed. Doug Shamberger joined Schramel and Sheehan in favor of the motion, while Elliott and Leah West opposed it.
Once the motion was approved, the board quickly approved the revised resolution 5-0. Student trustee Tess Oliphant, whose vote is advisory, voted nay.
She told trustees that many students didn’t even know about the meeting or the proposal. She said she “vividly remembered” last year when Taylor met with the student body. That didn’t happen this year, she said, and the lack of communication to students, faculty and the community was “disappointing.”
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