There is No Food

That loud thud you may have heard at your office door was the sound of CCC’s 2014 budget book landing on your threshold. The product of hundreds of faculty and staff working over the course of five months, the FY2014 Budget Book highlights our accomplishments in the past year and plans for the coming year. For those of you interested in saving the planet, the electronic version is available here.

Astute observers will notice a few key facts. The budget is balanced. FY13 was a strong year for achieving our goals, with graduation, retention and first-year enrollment in remedial courses all up. For FY14, tuition is flat. State funding is down (as documented in the budget; more about that next).

This last fact caused the most discomfort as we attempted to balance the budget. The original proposed state budget inflicted pain on City Colleges. As we go to press, both final Senate and House versions were kinder to CCC, but the budget work needed to conclude before the state passed its budget. We conservatively planned for a $12 million reduction in state funding – a healthy whack out of a $300 million operating budget. On pages 8 and 9, the budget outlines our priorities if the funding is in fact restored.

On top of the state funding challenges, HWC had to absorb $450,000 increases in UPASS funding, our CTA pass subsidy to students in need. Wright’s share of UPASS was $250,000. HWC also had to balance a budget with union contract salary increases. Benefit increases also inflicted some amount of pain.

Declining revenues and increasing costs, for the accountants keeping score, means cuts in operating fund allocations. The key drivers to our operating costs are salary and benefits, supplies, travel, and services, with salaries accounting for 80% of our costs. Both the HWC and Wright administrators took a hard look at supplies, memberships, and travel, and cut everything we could there. We also took a hard look at salaries – either not filling proposed or vacant positions, or as a last result, eliminating positions we could no longer afford. As readers of the budget will see, there are no position eliminations in the proposed budget for currently filled positions.

We endured round after round of discussions at both colleges and at District Office, trying to find the budget savings. Colleges and District Office departments were all making painful choices, not only about essential programs (a little part of me died when VC Stevens announced she could not implement my cherished Customer Relationship Management system essential for managing workforce partnerships for our business partners) but also to current operations. At 12:30 AM one late Monday evening/Tuesday morning, one of the Vice Chancellors asked us to consider if we had truly made on all the cuts we could to non-essential services and supplies before considering staff cuts. “I would really hate to see a purchase requisition in October for thousands of dollars of food knowing that we cut someone’s position in May,” he said. I took the opportunity to take a detailed look at every line item of both colleges’ budgets. Where I could easily identify non-essential items, I eliminated them.

There is no food.

As I scanned the budgets, I found food for festivals, celebrations, and student events. I cut every one I could find. Oratorical Festival refreshments – gone. All cultural history month refreshments – eliminated. If the line item said food, beverage, refreshment, lunch, breakfast, light pastries, fresh fruit or bottled water, I deleted the dollars.

After a while, the exercise became freeing. I did not have to make those decisions on trade-offs – was the Black History Month food more deserving than Humanifest-Oh!’s request? – and instead found an odd peace in cutting it all. In the back of my mind, I felt a little more guilty about Wright than Harold, as Harold’s food options within two blocks of our front door overwhelm the comparatively slimmer pickings at 4300 N. Narragansett (although I have grown fond of the Chicken Ke-Bab at Tom and Jerry’s). In the end, it was all gone. Those cuts, while painful, were not as painful as reducing staff. As I said earlier, there are no staff cuts to filled positions in this budget. We made trade-offs to save staff.

There is no food.

There are exceptions. Student Government Association funds can still purchase food. Union contract mandated food is still there, as well. Grant-funded food, where explicitly outlined in the grant, will move forward. But all departmental requests for food are not included in the FY14 budget. And if, by some legerdemain, a department managed to hide food requests (edible binder clips, anyone?), know that I will not approve any food requests in the coming year.

I have submitted proposed budgetary restorations for both colleges. Rest assured, food is not on either list. Faculty positions, tutoring, and a few academic support positions (e.g., advisers) made the list. As mentioned before, however, there is no food.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with higher education, non-profit and private-sector consulting experience.

5 thoughts on “There is No Food

  1. Dear President Laackman:

    Continue to read your blog and find that, besides being written wonderfully, the meditations are pertinent to everyone in academia. As we all settle our budgets, I know that this is one of the sore points for those making cuts. But the arguments you make here, and your gracious and graceful delivery of practical wisdom, are refreshing. Thanks much.

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