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Seattle Colleges' multi-million dollar budgeting blunder draws ire of staff

caption: Seattle Central Community College.
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Seattle Central Community College.
Flickr Photo/javacolleen (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Typically, a college system would be happy to discover millions of dollars in savings. But the recent revelation that Seattle Colleges was only facing a fraction of its projected budget deficit is causing frustration among staff, who faced the threat of job loss and program cuts.

At the beginning of the 2021 fiscal year, Seattle Colleges, which includes Seattle Central, North Seattle, and South Seattle Community Colleges, were projecting a $17 million gap. The Seattle Times reported that, at a budget meeting earlier this month, the actual deficit was closer to $3 million.

That $17 million projected deficit, which was revised to $14 million earlier this year, led the college system to publicly signal some popular programs may be cut, specifically the Maritime Academy, Wood Technology Center, the Culinary Arts, and Apparel Design and Development programs. Those programs train students to become trained professionals in the region, from ferry workers to pastry chefs.

"When that happens, the faculty think, 'Okay, about to lose my job,'" says Annette Stofer, the president of the faculty union representing Seattle Colleges. "The students who want to enroll in those programs say, 'Why would I get onto a sinking ship when we're cutting classes, part time faculty are losing their jobs?'"

The college did reiterate that any students who start a program that is cut will be able to finish that program.

For some staff, hearing that the budget deficit was significantly smaller than expected left them in disbelief. Colleagues had left because of the dire financial situation. Johnny Dwyer, the president of Seattle Colleges classified employees union and a former Seattle Central student, says that the system lost decades of institutional knowledge.

"I felt pretty rotten about how many people were laid off because of these supposedly budget crises," Dwyer said. "And how many people chose to leave rather than feel like they were working with an axe over their career neck — an axe that didn't actually exist."

Last summer the Chancellor of the system, Shouan Pan, left Seattle Colleges and the Vice Chancellor Chancellor for Finance and Operations, Terence Hsiao, said this week he would retire, citing poor budget forecasting, according to The Seattle Times. The former head of South Seattle College, Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap, is now Interim Chancellor for Seattle Colleges.

Rimando-Chareunsap says that the budget deficit being smaller than forecast is good news.

"But of course, I have to recognize that that the messaging that was used at the time by my predecessor and others was really something that created a lot of concern and had a lot of impact across the organization as well," Rimando-Charunsap says.

You can listen to the full interview above.

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