Grays Harbor College passes budget, prepares for potential major cuts in state funding

The Grays Harbor College Board of Trustees approved a 2020-21 operating budget Tuesday, acknowledging that anticipated cuts in state allocations to the school due to COVID-19 revenue shortfalls will need to be addressed in the coming months.

Tuesday’s board meeting came one day before the state was set to release its budget forecast, and with no recent directives from the governor or any sign of a special legislative session starting any time soon, the board was stuck with passing a budget based on March numbers, before the pandemic hit. The board did so unanimously, with a provision that it could meet again June 29 to adjust the budget if new direction is given by the state.

Kwabena Boakye, college vice president of administrative services, provided his analysis to the board. “As we all know, we don’t have a specific allocation reduction amount” from the state, and the college was instructed by the state Attorney General’s Office that the school must base its budget, due July 1, on the state allocations that were announced in March, prior to COVID-19 shutdowns.

Boakye’s report said the proposed budget “is preliminary for the purposes of having an approved budget as of July 1, 2020, with the understanding, based on notifications from the Office of Financial Management, that there may be a reduction in the state appropriation after the new budget year has begun and this approved preliminary budget will need to be readjusted to meet the changes in the state appropriation.”

Prior to the meeting, college president Dr. Jim Minkler said, “We were given a budget back at the end of March, which wasn’t a bad budget. It was really pretty good for community and technical colleges, and also added some funding, some new money for high demand programs.”

The proposed state allocation as of March is $12,563,818, a 5% increase over the fiscal year 2019-20 allocation. The total budget the board approved was just over $18 million. The budget as presented by Boakye to the board included some cuts, but using the available numbers, the budget “will not require the laying off of full-time employees at this time.” The cuts for the budget approved this week come from adjunct budgets and staff vacancies, among other sources.

That said, the budget as approved includes a deficit of more than $850,000, and did not reflect the 15% budget reduction exercise the state required across all agencies earlier this year. That taken into consideration, the school could be looking at up to a $2 million reduction in the state allocation if cuts of that extent are deemed necessary by the state. “And for us to have an $18 million budget and looking at an over $2 million cut is devastating for a college our size,” said Minkler.

Minkler told the board he is in constant communication with key legislators, including 24th District Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, Chairman of the House Capital Budget Committee, working on ways to keep allocation cuts to a minimum. While legislators are generally unwilling to take money from the state’s capital budget to make up for shortfalls in the operating budget, where the school’s funding comes from, Minkler told the board, “Given the shortfall, they are willing to do that this year, meaning the shortfall in the operating budget can be mitigated by taking some out of the capital fund, but only the Legislature can provide that.”

Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that it takes executive action by the governor or official legislative action before any reduction in state allocation, and any relief for those cuts. And Minkler said in his conversations he’s been told the Legislature may not even consider a special session until after the November elections.

Critical to economic recovery

Minkler said he’s hopeful the governor and Legislature will understand the pivotal role Grays Harbor College and other institutions like it will play in the state’s economic recovery after pandemic-related losses.

“Grays Harbor College is a good example of this, a critical player in economic recovery,” he said. “The pandemic had a huge hit across Grays Harbor and Pacific counties, but by working with the school districts and all of our business and industry mapping out our recovery together and collaborating to make sure that those finding themselves unemployed know there is an avenue of training and skill that can be developed.”

He continued, “There is an avenue out of this and Grays Harbor College can play an instrumental role in this.”