Battle of the Budgets

Armani JacksonManaging Editor

The Washington state legislature is estimated to provide Pierce College with $25.1 million for the next fiscal year.

A budget committee, comprised of 18-24 members from all represented groups (e.g. faculty, classified staff, the executive team, etc.), decides where the money is spent after a series of smaller committees present regarding individual department budgets.

During the next fiscal year, three percent more money of the annual budget is going to salaries because of a 1.8 percent cost of living adjustment in Washington. Also, $615,000 has to go to the settlement of the Moore vs HCA lawsuit.

“It’s not like someone has just said ‘we’re cutting your budget by X,’ so we’d have to adapt,’” Vice President of Student Success Matthew Campbell said. “It’s an interesting process because it can seem like a good thing at the start, and you’re like ‘oh, it’s actually a cut.’”

This means that more money can go to salaries, health care or benefits. If more money isn’t coming in from the state, however, it can actually be a net decrease, Campbell said. A similar situation occurred with the cost of tuition. Last year, tuition was reduced for students, but the legislature didn’t fully supplement Pierce for the cut.

“By not adding (more money to the budget), whenever things like the cost of electricity or health care goes up that the institution has to pay additional (money) for, but we don’t get (an increase) from the legislature, our budget we have to function with is effectively cut,” Campbell said. “We can’t not pay the energy bill or health care so those funds now have to come from somewhere else in the institution.”

The process starts in December or January of each year when the Board of Trustees approves a set of core values for the committee. They then look at where the state funds are going and how departments work together. Each department has a budget planning group, and each present to the budget committee about additional requests and/or cuts to their area.

pierce-budget-processPierce won’t know the actual budget until the first week of June. One hundred seventy-one items were being asked to be added to the budget and 132 items were suggested to be partially or fully cut, Vice President of Administration Choi Halladay said.

Up to 85 percent of the budget is spent on salaries and benefits, the most expensive being health insurance. Halladay estimates that by next year, $250,000 more will have to be given to pay for increases in health care.

Another major portion of the budget is delegated to Achieving the Dream, which will help equalize a variety of demographics in terms of completing a degree or certificate while at Pierce, Campbell said.

Halladay said the college will also be phasing in new Enterprise Resource Planning software, which controls finances, registration and everything Pierce tracks online. This is planned to be phased in October.

Since money has to be shifted, not everything can be funded in the same way. For example, if more money has to go to salaries, there’s less money that can be used for other areas. When something like that occurs, one of the first aspects the committee looks at is if there’s something that was once funded but may no longer be needed.

At the base level, they start examining little things that can quickly add up, like printing. Departments may start to rely more heavily on emails rather than letters, consequently cutting the use of paper. As a result, the committee can cut the printing budget without hugely impacting the way a department functions. In an extreme circumstance a program may have to be cut, but that’s rarely the case, Campbell said.

The budget changes each year depend on industry, community and the college’s need. It’s likely that the legislature will spend more of the tax base on K-12 education and less on higher education in coming years, Halladay said. It’s the committee’s and Halladay’s job to look at what that’ll mean for the college. Structurally, the budget could also change as long time employees retire and new ones are hired as replacements, Halladay said.

“We want to be really effective in what we do,” Campbell said. “We also want to be really cognitive that a budget conversation is often impacting people’s lives and their livelihoods. We don’t want to fund things that don’t make sense so we’re often looking at ‘how do we restructure this?’ It’s always looked at as this balancing act of trying to be as compassionate as we can because we really care about everyone who works here and the work they do.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Armani Jackson

Battle of the Budgets

by Armani Jackson time to read: 3 min