NNMC tuition raised, but child center saved

 

ESPAÑOLA — Northern New Mexico College’s Board of Regents adopted last-minute changes Monday to its $16.4 million operating budget for fiscal year 2014, addressing many issues that had created an outcry among students, faculty and community members.

But it did increase tuition by 14 percent, hike student fees and put previously budgeted pay increases for faculty on hold until at least early next year.

“I could not in good conscience justify an increase in salary, while increasing tuition and at the same time eliminating programs,” said Michael Branch, the board president.

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However, the childhood development center, which provides day-care services, and Sostenga Center, which houses a community kitchen, will remain open. Both were on the chopping block when the college’s administration held a town hall meeting last week.

The budget was unanimously adopted during a special meeting scheduled to beat a May 1 deadline to submit a budget to the Higher Education Department.

This budget, according to Branch, “will put us on solid footing in regard to reserves.”

Domingo Sanchez, NNMC vice president of finance and administration, said the college had $101,000 on reserve, which he called “dangerously low.” He later said the school ideally would have between $3.5 million and $4 million in reserve.

In addition, Sanchez said it will start the fiscal year with a negative fund balance of about $300,000, carrying over losses from this year.

The college had planned to eliminate the childhood development center and Sostenga Center as part of its cost-cutting measures with the 2014 budget.

“The issue on those are extremely high losses,” Sanchez said during Monday’s meeting. “They are not generating revenues that come close to sustaining those programs.”

But complaints from students, faculty and community members during last week’s town hall meeting, a regents’ meeting the next day, and again on Monday caused the board to reconsider.

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Members of the Board of Regents heard from a dozen people, including state Sen. Richard Martinez and Rep. Debbie Rodella, both of Española, during the public input portion of Monday’s meeting.

Complaints ranged from the impact the loss of the childhood development and Sostenga centers would have on the community to concerns about what would happen to the Spanish Colonial Heritage program based at the El Rito campus. Concerns also were raised over the effect increased tuition might have on enrollment, faculty parity, and alleged lack of transparency and communication during the budget process.

Many of the same complaints and concerns were expressed last week, prompting the regents’ finance committee to meet on Saturday to see what could be done to address the concerns.

On Monday, Alfred Herrera, treasurer of the Board of Regents and head of the finance committee, laid out a list of six recommendations the committee asked the board to consider before approving the budget. The board adopted them all.

Among them were opening up the child development center to the community at large and expanding its operation from nine to 12 months. It will be under the oversight of the College of Education.

As for the Sostenga Center, the La Tiendita cafe will be closed. However, the community kitchen will remain open and be used for a hospitality program under development. The nearby farm will be supported by grant funding to lessen the burden on the operational budget.

Other recommendations included:

n A budget cut of 2.5 percent across all departments.

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n Approximately $125,000 allocated for faculty raises put on reserve until mid-year.

n The Colonial Arts program to be integrated into the continuing education program.

n A boost in the college’s marketing plan to increase enrollment.

“We need to make a concerted effort to reduce expenditures for the upcoming year, but at the same time make a major effort to increase the revenue side,” Herrera said.

Herrera added that the toughest part of re-working the budget was increasing tuition.

Sanchez noted that NNMC’s tuition would still be lower than eastern and western New Mexico universities and slightly more than New Mexico Highlands.

With an increase from $100 to $114.50 per credit hour, tuition would stand at $1,374 for a student taking 12 credits. But students also can expect about a $35 increase in fees to $54.67.

Sanchez said if enrollment stays the same, at approximately 2,000 students, the tuition increase would boost the college’s revenues by as much as $1 million.

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Regent Cecille Martinez-Wecshler said she hated to make cuts, but “you can’t have a program if it doesn’t pay for itself.”

Reaction to the board’s action was mostly positive.

While no student likes to see higher tuition, student representative Lisa Salazar said she supported it if it meant that programs wouldn’t be cut and money was set aside for faculty raises.

Sue Farrington, who uses the community kitchen for a small business she operates, said that she was pleased that it sounded as if she’d still be able to use the facility.

“I have to say I was delighted,” she said. “I didn’t really expect to get a stay of execution. I thought it was a done deed. I was amazed when (Herrera) started making the recommendations.”

Johnna Aguino said she was happy to hear the childhood development center would stay open, and not just because she and others who worked there feared they’d lose their job.

“We’re all relieved and happy about that, but I was more worried about the kids and the parents,” she said. “I think opening to the public is going to be a good thing, just to generate more revenue.”

Gilbert Sena, president of the faculty senate, remained skeptical. He said he’s heard at least one faculty member will lose his or her job.

“I need to talk to the faculty to see what their feelings are,” he said.

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