No confidence vote alleges ‘flawed decisions,’ missteps
The faculty union of Wenatchee Valley College (WVC) has called for the immediate removal of college President Jim Richardson, accusing him of “fiscal mismanagement” that has resulted in layoffs and furloughs of college employees at its Omak and Wenatchee campuses.
The WVC Association for Higher Education on Jan. 14 announced a vote of “no confidence” in Richardson, saying his “flawed decisions are affecting Wenatchee Valley College students.”
Faced with a projected $1 million budget deficit, the college announced last month that 20 employees would be laid off effective Jan. 31. That number has since increased to 21 employees. No faculty positions are among the layoffs, and classes would not be affected during the current academic year, college officials said.
Richardson said the budget crisis was caused by a multi-year trend toward declining student enrollment, and an unexpectedly sharp drop in enrollment rates last fall, resulting in a projected deficit of nearly $1 million in the college operating budget.
“We, the faculty, do not accept President Richardson’s explanation for the current budget crisis,” said Patrick Tracy, president of the union, in a news release. “The fall 2019 downturn in student enrollment only pushed the college over the edge after years of poor fiscal management. The employees and students deserve better leadership than what we have seen under Jim Richardson.”
Tracy said the vote of no-confidence was taken by 64 full-time tenured faculty members, and was approved by 91 percent. Part-time and adjunct instructors did not vote. Tracy, with about three dozen faculty members, presented the faculty members’ complaints to the WVC Board of Trustees at a meeting on Jan. 15.
In a summary prepared for the trustees, the union charged Richardson with “failure to uphold the duties he has been tasked with in his employment contract by not behaving in a professional manner and by injuring the reputation of the college.”
The union also said that as a result of financial mismanagement, the college is now “being impaired in its ability to serve the educational needs of the community and to deliver high quality education.”
In a statement released after the no-confidence vote, Richardson said, “I take the concerns of the faculty very seriously and am disheartened by their vote. I understand that the budget deficit has raised many questions and concerns from the college community and the public and I will continue addressing those to the best of my ability. However, student success was and remains my top priority when making any decisions for WVC.”
They layoffs announced by the college include classified and exempt employees working in facilities and grounds, administration, student services and IT positions. In addition to the layoffs, the college is also using furloughs to address the budget crisis. Exempt employees will take 10 days of unpaid leave, and classified employees will take eight days of unpaid leave during the academic year.
The union said the staffing cutbacks will have a negative effect on students. “The current financial crisis has resulted in a reduction in essential support services on both the Omak and Wenatchee campuses. Students have every right to expect all of the services they are paying for,” the union summary said.
In an interview last month, Richardson told the Methow Valley News that the regional community college is facing challenges that are impacting institutions of higher learning across the country – lower enrollment due to a strong job market and declining numbers of high school graduates. “It’s a local manifestation of a national trend,” he said.
Despite a trend toward declining enrollment over the past decade, enrollment for the current school year appeared strong after registration opened last May, and continued at the highest rate in five years through August, according to college officials.
With a strong enrollment outlook, the college board of trustees approved a yearly operating budget based on a 2 percent increase in enrollment. But the rate of enrollment dropped unexpectedly in September and didn’t recover when the academic year began, resulting in the projected deficit of nearly $1 million in the college operating budget.
The faculty union, however, said the cause of the crisis has been misrepresented to college employees and the media. In its summary statement, the union said WVC has faced two financial crises in the past three years. Tracy said that the college had to borrow money in 2016 to make payroll. WVC also has “numerous capital projects leading to mounting debt,” the union said.
The union also accused Richardson of “evasion of any responsibility for the crisis” and cited the president’s “high salary and the college’s low student FTEs (full-time equivalents) in comparison to other presidents and community colleges.”
Tracy provided the trustees with an 11-page report outlining the faculty union’s reasons for calling for Richardson’s removal. The union also invited trustees to meet with its representatives. “We didn’t expect the board to do anything in the meeting on Jan. 15,” Tracy said.
The board was scheduled to meet again on Tuesday (Jan. 21), but Tracy said the union was not invited “since they probably need to discuss the matter among themselves before meeting with union representatives,” he said. The board of trustees is responsible for hiring and firing the college president.