Reprieve for CNC's dental assisting program but other college cuts kept

College of New Caledonia’s board approved $2.8 million in budget cuts Friday, confirming more than 30 layoffs, reducing counselling services, cutting daycare spending and removing several courses, including the dental hygiene program’s intake until at least Sept. 2016.

But a last-minute move should keep the dental assisting program open this September.

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"We have been working with Ministry (of Advanced Education) in the background," college president Henry Reiser told the board. "Our plan has been all along to relaunch this program.”

The budget calls for a temporary suspension of both dental programs, with a plan to revise the one-year assisting program so it can be offered this September, pending approval by the education council. 

Reiser said certain issues need to be addressed before it can restart the intakes for the two-year hygiene program. 

“We need to get some modifications to our dental hygienist program and we’re committing that we will try the best we can to get that program launched again, an intake in September of 2016,” he said. “We unfortunately need to play a bit of brinkmanship and I think that has helped us and served us well.”

Dental program founder Carole Whitmer credited the public outcry for keeping the program partially alive.

“I don’t think they ever expected the response from the community,” said Whitmer, who heard about the change half an hour before the meeting. “I’m not sure what the plan is. I wish there was something more concrete about the dental hygiene (program) but we’re here now and we want to work toward both... programs (being) reinstated.”

The budget was passed with a vote of 6-3 and one abstention.

Student representatives Harman Dandiwal and Eric Depenau both voted against the budget. They said the board heard the ministry had given additional funding to keep the program open, but were not yet clear on the details.

“The small envelope of money that we received we’re very thankful for and it’ll do great things in the short term,” said Depenau.

But Dandiwal criticized the cuts to counselling, which will see a part-time staffer refer to students to services outside the college.

He also opposed cuts to the Prince George Early Care and Learning Centre.

The board heard the daycare will need to transition to a non-profit society if it is to be saved. 

“It’s basically lack of proper funding, lack of grants, increasing tuition fee and increasing students loans. It’s crazy,” said Dandiwal.

Depenau said: “We’re dealing with a government that doesn't respect or prioritize public education.”

In the meeting, faculty representative Sheldon Clare also criticized provincial government's approach to education.

“I think that there really needs to be much more effort taken on the part of government to understand and work towards properly developing a good funding model to meet the needs of this college,” said Clare, who voted against the budget.

“I have a real problem with a budget that basically, in many respects, has a predetermined outcome. That means program cuts and layoffs at... CNC, cuts that I believe are against the interests of the college and against the interests of the people that work here and against the interests of the community at large.” 

The budget document said 39 layoff notices have been sent to one administrator, 21 faculty and 17 operational staff. However, given the dental assisting change, some layoffs would be rescinded.

Whitmer said that should mean three dental assisting faculty can keep their jobs and she doesn’t expect many changes to the course. 

“The dental assistant (program) is already the second shortest (program) in the province and it has the second highest tuition,” said Whitmer, adding she was frustrated by how late the decision came.

“I’ve been on disability since end of January with a broken wrist and I’ve only been able to teach 30 per cent. That other 70 per cent I could have been working on curriculum so it’s very evident to me that it’s the government this morning, last night, that pushed them to make this decision.”

Many on the board echoed Reiser’s comments about how difficult the last few months have been for the board. 

“I feel that we’ve made the best choice given the circumstances,” said board member Vincent Prince, who will be the new chair.

“I want to assure the public that these decisions are not taken lightly,” said outgoing chair Keith Playfair, noting the process has “weighed heavily” on the board executive.

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