Budget woes discussed at BC

Published 8:59 pm Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bainbridge College President Tom Wilkerson tried to ease anxiety among some students, faculty and staff Monday over a proposal to make substantial cuts in the college.

During a workshop at the Kirbo Center attended by approximately 100 students, faculty and staff members of Bainbridge College, Wilkerson attempted to explain the state’s dire situation with its budget and tried to answer questions on how the college will respond to any cuts.

Earlier in the day, Wilkerson held a workshop at the Blakely campus.

“I’ve never seen anything like this current situation. No one has,” Wilkerson said. “It is difficult, to say the least.”

During a recent legislative committee meeting, the University System of Georgia was told by two legislators—Sen. Seth Harp and Rep. Earl Ehrhart—to suggest $300 million additional cuts on top of the $265 million proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Wilkerson said the proposed cuts to Bainbridge College were drafted overnight, and they were done to be as dramatic and candid as possible. Among those proposed cuts submitted to the University System of Georgia included the elimination of the college’s continuing education, paramedic/EMT and drafting programs, and reduce the number of LPN students from 120 to 50 and cap the ADN program students to 40.

But Wilkerson said those dramatic cuts probably won’t happen. That the legislators will come down somewhere in the middle between the governor’s proposal and the dire University System’s answer to Harp’s and Ehrhart’s request.

However, paramedic student Tammy Wilson left Monday’s meeting still worried about her future.

She said she quit her job to devote more time to earning her paramedic degree, and she has taken out student loans in order to pay for her schooling.

“We really don’t know where our program stands,” Wilson said.

Tori Read of Attapulgus said she quit her job in Atlanta to go to Bainbridge College to earn a paramedic degree, but said Monday’s workshop wasn’t reassuring.

“They are not sure what’s going to happen,” Read said. “In fact, I was a little more worried when I left there than when I went in.”

Some students expressed concern during the workshop that they had been laid off from one job and came to the college to be retrained, only to have their particular program being targeted for cuts.

Wilkerson said after the hour-long workshop that the promise to re-train the students would be broken if the additional cuts were made.

“We will do everything we can not to impact the students,” Wilkerson said.

The college president said he believed Perdue when the governor recently said that he will not allow the additional $300 million in cuts.

However, Wilkerson said if the legislators increase tuition—especially if it went up by 77 percent, as cited in one proposal—that it would be “insane.”

There was one question on why not stop construction of the Student Wellness Center to save money.

Wilkerson the center is being built with money generated by issuing bonds and not with state money, so it won’t impact these budget discussions.

The college’s student body president, Chase Alexander, said the college has a lot of people getting paid “very well,” and asked whether the college consider pay cuts of its staff and faculty.

Wilkerson said the faculty and staff are already taking furlough days, which is about a 3 percent reduction in their pay. But he added, “Everything will be on the table.”

The college saved approximately $30,000 last summer by going to a four-day work week, and Wilkerson said there’s a strong possibility that the college may institute that again in the summer and try it in the fall if major cuts are needed.