Trustee says budget needs more transparency

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District 1 trustee Joe Alderete explains his concerns about budget transparency to Chancellor Bruce Leslie Tuesday during the Student Success Committee meeting of the board of trustees. Alderete said college presidents do not have full control of their budgets because part of the funds for each college goes back to district for information technology costs.  Photo by Katherine Garcia

District 1 trustee Joe Alderete explains his concerns about budget transparency to Chancellor Bruce Leslie Tuesday during the Student Success Committee meeting of the board of trustees. Alderete said college presidents do not have full control of their budgets because part of the funds for each college goes back to district for information technology costs. Photo by Katherine Garcia

Diane Snyder, vice chancellor for finance and administration, explains the 2016 fiscal year budget during the Audit, Budget and Finance Committee meeting Tuesday at Killen. Snyder suggested implementing a hiring chill or raising taxes or tuition to replace a potential $2 million shortfall.  Photo by Katherine Garcia

Diane Snyder, vice chancellor for finance and administration, explains the 2016 fiscal year budget during the Audit, Budget and Finance Committee meeting Tuesday at Killen. Snyder suggested implementing a hiring chill or raising taxes or tuition to replace a potential $2 million shortfall. Photo by Katherine Garcia

Vice chancellor warns of hiring chill if the district encounters a $2.7 million shortfall.

By Katherine Garcia

kgarcia203@student.alamo.edu

District 1 trustee Joe Alderete raised concerns about whether the budget is transparent enough during the Student Success Committee meeting Tuesday.

Alderete said the back charges, which are funds given to the colleges but paid back to district IT, are unjust because the money designated to each college in the budget should stay at the college.

Chancellor Bruce Leslie said since he became chancellor, the information technology department is housed at district, but each college gives some of its budget back to district to pay for IT services.

Alderete said this wasn’t honest because the money allocated to the individual colleges is not the full amount if it’s going to be given back to district IT.

If a college budget is given to a college, then he would hope college presidents “would have full discretion on how they use the money and not have the district intervene,” he said.

Diane Snyder, vice chancellor for finance and administration, said the back charge is included in each college’s individual budget to meet a requirement by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Alderete said he expects college presidents to have control over their college and their budgets.

He said there’s no reason a college president should come to administration and request an allocation or to hire someone for their college when they are capable of doing it themselves.

Leslie defended his decision to discuss the “lean” number of full-time faculty, 38 percent, at Northwest Vista College, with President Rick Baser.

Leslie said he sometimes meets with college presidents to help manage employees to ensure the colleges maintain a 50-50 ratio of full-time to part-time faculty.

He encouraged Baser to move funds within the college’s budget to increase the faculty ratio. Baser hired two math professors.

Snyder said 80 percent of the college budgets and 59 percent of the district budget go to personnel.

District 7 trustee Yvonne Katz defended Leslie’s actions, saying the ratio prevents college presidents from hiring too many employees using “soft money,” such as grants that will run out within two years.

Alderete said not hiring hinders student success, while Leslie said having too many employees strains the budget.

District 2 trustee Denver McClendon said he was confused about the conversation and saw no problem.

He said to Alderete, “The title said ‘budget adjustment,’ and you started off by saying, ‘No we don’t want to talk about budget.’”

Alderete said he meant to talk about who controls the budget, not the numbers.

District 8 trustee Clint Kingsbery echoed Alderete’s concerns, saying the trustee thought colleges weren’t entrusted with the full budget amount and giving the money back to district negatively impacts student success.

Snyder explained the THECB requires information technology and communications costs for the district to be charged back to each college and listed on the budget.

She said when the budget is made for a college, the money for IT and communications is loaded into a separate account to be spent only on those departments.

Pamela Ansboury, associate vice chancellor of finance and fiscal services, explained IT supports each college institution with instruction, student services and academic support.

She said it’s charged that way so the Coordinating Board knows how much IT costs per college.

Alderete said the funds are not really the colleges’ because the IT funds are going back to the district.

“That is my concern because you’re falsifying public records,” he said.

Other committee members disagreed.

District 6 trustee Gene Sprague said the cost of IT should be split among the colleges because the cost is incurred by the colleges.

“There’s nothing underhanded, there’s nothing mysterious; it’s like white on black, it’s so simple. It’s just another category,” Sprague said.

Leslie said the issue wasn’t trust or transparency, but rather making sure every level — from district to the colleges — was accountable for their actions.

Alderete said, according to Thomas Cleary, vice chancellor for planning, performance, and IT, among the Top 10 community college districts in Texas in producing graduates, Alamo Colleges ranked sixth.

Leslie told Alderete the Alamo Colleges ranked second and having to back up the numbers because people don’t believe them costs the district.

Alderete said Alamo Colleges may be second in number of graduates to Lone Star Community College, but when comparing the number of graduates as a percentage of the student population to other large community colleges, the district ranks six of 10.

Alderete promised to return with data.

District spending can be found at: www.alamo.edu/district/fiscal-services/reports/.

In the Audit, Budget and Finance Committee meeting that evening, Snyder presented the baseline budget for 2016.

In early estimates, Snyder said hiring chills, or not filling positions after an employee retires or leaves a job, may be an option if the college does not receive the full amount of funding from the state.

She is estimating expenses totaling $312.5 million but revenue of $309.8 million, leaving a $2.7 million shortfall.

State appropriations are expected to decrease by $3.2 million from last year’s $63.4 million to $60.2 million.

Snyder said the early estimate of the budget is the worst-case scenario of zero percent enrollment growth, which would yield reduction in state appropriations.

Another way to counter the shortfall is to raise property taxes or tuition.

The committee forwarded the budget to the full board, which meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Room 101 of Killen Center.

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