‘No one on this board is happy’

CNC cuts discussed at packed forum

College of New Caledonia's board faced a full house at Friday's monthly meeting and an afternoon forum held in response to opposition to proposed cuts.

Board chair Keith Playfair started off by saying the college has faced years of cuts.

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"All the easy spots are gone. Unfortunately we're down to where we're cutting meat from the bones this year and I can honestly say that no one on this board is happy."

In the last month, the board has received more than 500 pages of letters in response to proposed course suspensions that include the entire dental program as well as cuts to counselling and daycare.

On Friday, the board heard from college counsellors, dental faculty and at least 20 presenters who signed up to speak at the afternoon forum, organized after the college agreed to delay the budget vote by one month.

At issue is a $2.8 million deficit which president Henry Reiser was careful to note represents the operational rather than capital budget.

"We cannot move money from capital into operation," said Resier, adding the university is obliged to follow the government's direction in how it allocates some of its funds.

Reiser called the ratio of administrators to faculty "medium to low" in comparison to other institutions, noting that some administrators have nothing to do with the operational budget or faculty.

CNC's faculty association gave its breakdown of administrators: in 2014, 17 administrators made over $100,000 compared to two in 2002. Faculty, it said, represent 45.4 per cent of the college's staff.

Reiser told the speakers the board would consider their comments before the budget meeting - and vote - in April.

Dental program

Some of the loudest voices came in support of the dental program which gave

the board a thick booklet of letters and a 5,000 signature petition against the suspension.

The Education Council, which advises the board on academic matters, said it opposed the proposal when it met, also in early March.

Faculty slammed the college's process and lack of consultation with staff and students.

"We were shocked and we were blindsided," said Heather Brown, the clinic co-ordinator for dental studies, of the meeting in early March when faculty learned the program would be suspended.

Brown said the information communicated to faculty by the college has been "confusing and somewhat inaccurate."

The $360,000 the college quoted to faculty as clinic upgrade and equipment costs included an incorrect estimate, said patient coordinator Monica Costley, adding it also included items on the wishlist

Costley pointed to the $33,000 program staff raised to cover the cost of new computers, which were set to be installed this summer, as a sign of their willingness to work with CNC on costs.

They said they would be open to talking about faculty to student ratios, increasing course fees and clinic fees, which at $30 for an adult are low.

Programs cost $1 million a year and a redesigned course means the college can charge higher tuition to make the program more affordable to run. (The province has a two per cent cap on tuition increases)

On the subject of course fees, the speakers provided a breakdown to the board.

The dental assistant tuition at $8,130 is the highest in B.C. while the hygienist diploma at $18,000 to $20,0000 is neck-and-neck with other low-cost institutions, but half the University of British Columbia cost.

Brown said the program is well respected and fills a demand for dental personnel in the north. Their research indicates 88 per cent of graduates are employed north of 100 Mile House.

"We are at the crossroads," said Carole Whitmer, one of the program founders, also criticizing a move to hire a dean of health sciences amid layoffs and program cuts.

"It doesn't seem to add up."

Counselling services

Counsellors in Prince George and Quesnel had 1,163 appointments in the last year, of which 35 were considered a "crisis," said counsellor Tammy Skomorowski.

That translates to 15 per cent of the student population and is not including the counselling-run campus events.

"We do a lot of preventative work," she said. "We know that there's a strong relationship between mental health and student success."

Skomorowski said an in-house program that gets teachers to refer students they're concerned about brought 107 students to counsellors.

Three-quarters had not had any student support prior to that meeting.

"What that means that we really are a central point of intake," she said, adding the age group the college serves is at the highest risk for mental health and addictions. "I think we're offering an essential service."

With counselling, students are less likely to drop out, she said, pointing to CNC counsellors' 88 per cent retention rate.

She said the college is stigmatizing mental health if it refers students elsewhere.

"When we are offering out, we are offering a disservice," she said, adding in the college could be liable should something happen to a student.

Community counselling is overburdened and if students are considered high functioning, they are likely to be pushed down the wait list, she said.

"We will be losing all of our preventative strategies."

Other concerns

The board heard from daycare staff and parents dismayed by its proposed closure.

The childcare centre was also set to shut down last year, but some last minute options to make it financially viable saved it for a year. None, importantly the suggested summer camps, actually happened.

Lynn Synotte, a project planner with the Burns Lake campus, said it has faced a 31 per cent reduction in staff over the last two years.

"You are cutting programs in Prince George but you're cutting out the heart of Burns Lake," said Synotte, who has worked at the college for 25 years.

The Burns Lakes budget is 45 per cent, she said, but its cost recovery is 55 per cent of the total operational budget.

She praised its the campus for creating an environment for a non-traditional student, one who is older than the provincial average and face more personal barriers.

"These students find success," she said."We're very concerned about the philosophical shift in direction that's been dictated to meet budget demands. We do not feel consulted."

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