Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chancellor's Update: Protecting Our Health

Chancellor Cindy L. Miles
The following message was sent by Chancellor Cindy L. Miles to employees at the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.

“The concept of total wellness recognizes that our every thought, word and behavior affects our greater health and well-being. And we, in turn, are affected not only emotionally, but also physically and spiritually.”
-          Greg Anderson, American writer and cancer survivor

Staying healthy sometimes means making some difficult choices. Should I eat that tempting piece of chocolate cake or bite into a healthy apple? Should I stay in bed a few minutes longer or get up and work out at the gym? We all know the right answer to those questions, but it can require a lot of self-discipline to get the results for our bodies that we want to see.

At the District, we’ve had to make many difficult choices to maintain our financial health. Last night, our Governing Board approved our 2012-2013 Tentative Budget, as we are required to do under the state Education Code.  To deal with the $22.8 million budget shortfall we face this year, we had to make some painfully tough cuts, including the third year of reducing course sections, leaving positions unfilled, reducing operating expenses, and delaying facility maintenance. Drastic mid-year cuts drained the amount of money we could carry over from this year, leaving us without much of a safety net if we are hit with surprise cutbacks again this year.

Although we work vigilantly to stay lean and strong, our District’s prospects for health depend on whether California voters decide in November to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s temporary tax increase. If the measure fails, California community colleges would lose more than $338 million in funding.  For the District, this would mean losing $5.6 million on top of the $9.1 million in cuts we already endured in our current 2011-12 fiscal year.

What concerns me even more than the November tax measure is the long-term financial outlook for our District. More than 94% of our funding comes from Sacramento and nearly 85% of all our budget goes to personnel costs. Our fixed costs and demands for services continue to rise as our income is going down. The strain of four years of sustained budget cuts has taken its toll, and we are no longer able to set aside funds to protect us from future budget cutbacks. It’s a most unhealthy situation. 

One of the toughest decisions we had to make to keep our District lean was to offer the Early Retirement Incentive (ERI) to eligible employees. We have already lost 82 full-time positions over the last four years, and the prospect of losing more of our experienced and valued employees is heartbreaking. But the alternative was employee salary reductions or layoffs, as many other public institutions have been forced to do.

So we are grateful that our Governing Board approved the ERI last night, which we estimate will result in budget savings of $2.7 million. That sounds like a lot of money, but put it in context – it’s only about one-third of this year’s midyear cut, less than half of one month’s payroll costs, and less than the 4% contingency savings we’ve had in prior years to protect against midyear cuts or roll over to balance our budget for the next fiscal year. 

Last night, 60 employees were accepted by the Board of Trustees to receive the early retirement benefit – 31 faculty members, 19 classified employees, 1 confidential staff member, 4 supervisors and 5 managers. This translates to nearly one in 12 of our full-time employees leaving by the end of this month and will have an enormous effect on our District.

It’s with mixed feelings that we say farewell to our retiring colleagues. We’re happy that they’ll be starting an exciting new phase in their lives, but sad that we won’t be seeing them anymore as part of our work days. We’re worried that our departments won’t be able to function as well without the contributions and expertise of the departing employees. Clearly, we will have to do things differently with this many fewer hands around the District.

This fall, each college will be honoring the retirees during convocation and the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges will begin an annual tradition of hosting a homecoming event both to honor our recent retirees and help keep previous retirees connected to the wonderful work going on at our colleges.

We are still finalizing this year’s contingency staffing plan as a result of the ERI, but we will need to fill a portion of these new vacancies to maintain operations. In making these decisions, we are using the same process and criteria as we do for all of our critical hires—using our planning/budget councils and examining whether a position is required for accreditation, legal mandates or is vital for operating our institutions.

We also are carefully examining the District’s needs to determine if hiring even some of these essential positions can be delayed until after we learn our fiscal fate as the result of the November elections. The worst thing we could do would be to hire new employees in August and then have to issue pink slips in March.

This is a stressful time as we deal with these changes and uncertainties. The most important step we all can take for our health is to cultivate a positive mental attitude and look at what we are doing well. Remember that we are still serving more than 25,000 students at our colleges, providing them with the education and training that transforms their lives. Looking around the country and the world, let us recognize we are lucky to have jobs, not to mention meaningful jobs in which we are accomplishing great things and making a difference in the lives of our students and our East County community.

Let me urge you to take advantage of the wellness opportunities offered at both campuses to relieve stress and improve your mental and physical health. Grossmont is offering fitness courses and volunteer-led activities through its Wellness Initiative, and Continuing Education is offering a variety of fitness and wellness classes at Cuyamaca College.

Finally, we can all benefit by taking frequent moments just to breathe! As we recently learned in a Manager and Supervisor workshop, one minute of deep breathing each hour is a quick, easy exercise for relieving stress and renewing energy. Give it a try – your body will be glad you did.

Thanks, as always, for all you do for our students! Have a great summer – I hope you can get outside and enjoy our beautiful Southern California climate at its best.

To our beloved retirees – thank you for your years of service, best wishes for your new life adventures, come back to see us soon, and remember us on Election Day, November 6th!