Chemeketa lays off part-time workers, offers retirement incentives to cut costs

Chemeketa Community College on Thursday, April 16. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Chemeketa Community College has laid off 250 part-time and student workers and is offering retirement incentives to others to trim spending for the coming year.

More steps will likely be needed to balance the college’s budget for the 2020-21 because of sharply falling state revenues amid the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, President Jessica Howard said.

The college’s board is set to vote June 24 on a $296 million budget created before the economic impacts of the pandemic were clear. The college is required by law to approve a budget before the start of its new budget year, which begins July 1.

Howard said she and other community college leaders are still unsure what lies ahead as Gov. Kate Brown hasn’t yet said how she’ll trim state spending, including support for higher education.

If cuts are spread evenly across state programs, most would see a roughly 8% cut. At Chemeketa, that would be a loss of about $6.3 million to pay for faculty salaries and college operations.

“All of us who are affected by state funds, who derive significant revenue from state funding, we are planning for this particular scenario and hoping we don’t have to see it come to pass,” Howard said.

Chemeketa has already seen a sharp drop in spring enrollment, erasing gains made over winter quarter. At a May 20 board meeting, Chemeketa Chief Financial Officer Miriam Scharer reported that tuition and fee revenue for the year was about 20% under the budgeted amount.

To save money, the college offered full-time employees $15,000 to retire on June 30 if they were otherwise eligible. So far, 22 have taken the offer, college spokeswoman Marie Hulett said, and more may do so by the Friday, May 29 deadline.

That would save the college about $1.8 million next year, but some of that would be needed to hire replacements.

Part-time workers laid off were mostly those whose work isn’t needed with the campus operating remotely, Hulett said.

But the retirements won’t be enough. College administrators are working with employee unions to consider ways to cut costs.

One bright spot is the college’s projected summer enrollment, which is up about 14% from last summer. Community colleges typically see increased enrollment during recessions as people out of work seek to learn new skills and certificates to improve job prospects.

Howard said she’s not yet sure whether the increase reflects a bump due to widespread unemployment or an increase among students who elected not to take classes during spring term after the college shifted instruction online.

The college’s summer term will be nearly all online, but faculty are planning to offer some small group in-person sessions for courses with a lab or hands-on learning component that can’t be done remotely.

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Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.