Peninsula College cuts positions

School facing $870,000 deficit

PORT ANGELES — Peninsula College has eliminated a half-dozen faculty and administrative positions and several part-time jobs, including five in student services, as the school confronts an $870,000 deficit for the upcoming school year, college President Luke Robins said Thursday.

Those notified of cuts at the end of May included three full-time positions, three part-time hourly employees and one annualized associate faculty in a move that jeopardizes the future of The Buccaneer, the student newspaper that dates back to the 1960s.

At least two vacant full-time positions and two part-time hourly positions were eliminated.

“These numbers don’t include part-time faculty as those numbers fluctuate all the time based on enrollment,” college spokeswoman Kari Desser said in an email.

Robins, blaming low enrollment, said the college will be forced to make another $1.9 million in cuts if state agencies reduce expenditures by 15 percent, an option state officials are considering in light of billions in lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said low overall enrollment created a revenue shortfall that will be discussed when the proposed 2020-21 budget is considered by the college board of trustees in a Zoom meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Trustees are expected to formally approve the cuts then.

The budget reductions include the elimination of the annualized associate contract of Rich Riski, who will keep teaching but will no longer oversee the production of The Buccaneer student newspaper.

The newspaper, a student voice since at least 1963, will likely cease its print edition and may revert to solely online publication because of low enrollment in the journalism program, Robins said.

Robins announced the cuts in a May 26 email to faculty and staff obtained by Peninsula Daily News.

The reductions were made “while retaining the ability to ramp offerings back up should enrollment grow significantly,” Robins said in the email.

The cuts include termination of the automotive technology program, which will end after currently enrolled students finish the coursework.

Other reductions include the elimination of the position of special advisor to the president for indigenous affairs and longhouse director, held by Yolanda Machado.

That cut was made “to preserve the critical day-to-day operations of the Longhouse while reducing expenses,” Robins said in his email.

Longhouse activities will continue under the purview of the college chief strategy officer in collaboration with Robins, he said.

“Several” administrative part-time positions will be eliminated, Robins said.

Five part-time positions in student services were eliminated effective last week.

Also cut in student services were expenditures for part-time student help, travel, goods and services, and partial freezes of open positions.

“All of the work assigned to the eliminated positions will be absorbed within student services,” Robins said.

Positions of full-time faculty counselor and full-time student success navigator will be added.

Overall funding for travel, goods and services and professional development will be scaled back.

The college president’s office also is being reorganized.

The position of director of institutional research has been eliminated, with duties combined into a new director of grants and institutional effectiveness position.

Adjunct faculty have had their loads reduced or eliminated, Robins said.

In finance and administration, the vacant director of facilities, planning and operations position will not be filled.

It was held by Patty McCray Roberts, who left for a position at Tacoma Community College, Desser said.

A budget analyst position also was eliminated.

Enrollment dropped from 576 in the spring quarter 2019 to 459 in the current spring quarter, in which all programs except a few, such as nursing and welding, were transferred to online instruction.

Summer class enrollment is down by more than 600 percent, from 164 in 2019 to 23 this summer.

Robins said an increase in enrollment could bring about a restoration of positions, describing student numbers as a moving target.

“We don’t know what students are going to do in the fall,” Robins said Thursday.

A bad economy often pushes enrollment, as it did in the late 2000s, but not this time.

“We’re planning on a continued significant decline in international students because of travel restrictions,” he continued.

“We don’t know what will happen with fall sports.

“[The Northwest Athletic Conference] is still working on proposals for fall.

“Whether there is soccer season this fall might determine if some of those students are enrolled this fall.

“There are just a lot of moving parts.”

Robins said it is “unlikely” that sabbaticals will be funded for the 2021-22 school year.

“We don’t know what the course of the pandemic is going to be,” Robins added.

“Do we get a bump in enrollment? We have to wait and see.”

Robins said in his email that it is “unlikely” that sabbaticals will be funded for the 2021-22 school year.

Riski, who has taught journalism students at Peninsula College for more than 20 years, has been on paid sabbatical. He will teach two classes when he returns.

“There’s a pressure to increase enrollment quite a bit,” he said Thursday.

“There are people who are far worse off than me economically.

“Given the pandemic crisis, you’ve got to be nimble and be flexible and be calm and carry on and keep the standards of the journalism program as high as possible, no matter what.

“Come hell or high water, you’ve just got to keep doing it.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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