KPC makes deep cuts in 2017 budget

Now that the 2016 legislative session is over, Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner has had to implement the budget reductions he had planned for both the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years in 2017.

The current 2016-17 school year at KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer has not been significantly impacted, said Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College Director Carol Swartz. There have been reductions in travel and supply budgets, but all changes to personnel and classes this year have nothing to do with the budget.

“We’re still providing all the services we did before. All our programs are staying intact. People aren’t going to experience changes. The changes anyone sees are because of other changes in demographics and program trends … more online classes because people might want it online versus face-to-face.” Swartz said. “All those classes, they’re the same classes we’ve offered in the past.”

How next year’s cuts might affect the campus is still unclear, however, Swartz said.

“It’s the next couple years that will change based on what happens in legislative sessions,” Swartz said. “We don’t know about next year. We’re expecting other cuts to trickle down next year so that might be a different story.”

The college’s budget next year will decrease by nearly 17 percent from the 2016 budget as a consequence of broad state cuts to the University of Alaska system. All college programs will remain intact but not unscathed. Students, employees and the public will likely experience longer service wait times, and staff will have heavier work loads as a result of the four eliminated positions, six positions that were not filled when they were left vacant and reduced hours for 32 employees.

“It goes without saying — of course I want for our college to see more funding,” Turner said. “That’s true of any agency in the (state) government right now.”

Only one staff member of the 32 who were informed their hours would be reduced said they wouldn’t be able to continue to work for the college, Turner said. None who stay on will lose their benefits, he said.

Department supervisors notified affected employees in April and June, Turner said. He said he couldn’t comment on the eliminated positions because “they were personnel decisions.”

Turner and the Kenai Peninsula College Executive Committee, which includes him and six other senior staff, conducted a comprehensive review of college operations throughout the past school year to identify where inevitable reductions would best be made.

Supervisors were included in the process, and asked to address how they would prefer to see a 10 percent cut impact their departments in the upcoming two fiscal years, he said.

“We made $1.1 million in personnel and other costs reductions for FY17 and will use $204,767 from our budget reserve to cover the remaining deficit,” he said.

KPC’s budget this year will be more than $16.6 million, Turner said. The state’s allocation is approximately $1.5 million less than the previous year’s, resulting in a more than $1.3 million gap this year, he said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly made a dent in the shortfall by giving $779,958 to the college, $52,971 more than the previous year, Turner said. It was the entire allowable amount the assembly could have allocated, he said.

The money provided by the assembly helps cover tuition waivers for the JumpStart program for high school juniors and seniors who wish to take classes for dual credit, Swartz said.

“We’re very grateful to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly that they allocate $780,000 to the college that helps cover the JumpStart tuition waivers — reduced tuition to high school juniors and seniors,” Swartz said. “It helps fund some of the other public services too.”

Nearly half of the college’s revenue comes from the state, approximately 5 percent from the borough, approximately 37 percent from tuition dollars, and approximately 9 percent from other sources, Turner said.

Even more cuts are expected to trickle down from the state level next year.

Turner’s executive committee will meet again around the start of the school year to determine where best to make the next round of reductions, he said.

Right now, the UA system is responsible for 85 percent of the higher education in Alaska, according to the University of Alaska Anchorage website. It also has one of the lowest degree completion rates in the nation.

However, Turner said graduation isn’t the only measure of success. UA does offer significant career and technical training and certifications, which are becoming increasingly necessary to qualify for the workforce, he said.

In less than 10 years, 65 percent of Alaska’s jobs will require some post-secondary education experience, according to the UAA website. Currently, only 37 percent of the workforce meets that requirement.

The state needs to make a greater investment in its students, Turner said. If higher education doesn’t receive more attention, there is the risk of losing a large chunk of the state’s future workforce, he said.

“Former (UA) President Mark Hamilton said, ‘the university is the economic engine of Alaska,’ and I agree,” Turner said.

Kelly Sullivan is a reporter at the Peninsula Clarion and can be reached at Anna Frost, a reporter for the Homer News, contributed to this report.