Despite college-wide efforts to curb spending in light of massive endowment losses, Pomona College employees will not see their wages and salaries affected by budget cuts in the 2009 fiscal year. With massive deficits expected within the next five years, however, administrators are currently re-evaluating the college’s budget to determine whether labor reductions will be necessary in the near future.
“It’s going to take time,” said Treasurer Karen Sisson PO ’79. “None of our employees should be impacted this fiscal year.”
Since June 2008, the college’s endowment has fallen from $1.8 billion to $1.26 billion at the end of Feb. 2009. This drastic reduction in the college coffers will translate into major cuts in the school’s operating budget, which is comprised of endowment funds and other annual revenue sources. This year, more than 50 percent of the college’s day-to-day budget was drawn from the endowment, compared to just 35 percent in 2004. Based on financial models, the college anticipates the worst budget deficits will strike in 2012-2014, requiring even larger dependence on endowment withdrawals. Administrators hope to cut spending drastically over the next fiscal year to create a savings cushion for those future deficits. According to Sisson, the college hopes that making large changes now rather than incremental changes over a longer period will ultimately allow the college to deal with any painful adjustments all at once. “The sooner you cut, the sooner you cut the expense,” Sisson said. “We’re trying to isolate the pain in one place, then move on.”
Although additional budget cuts will be inevitable, the college considers layoffs a last resort. In addition to a budgetary reduction of 5-10 percent for all departments and an across-the-board wage freeze, Pomona is considering offering early retirement packages to the approximately 70 eligible employees. Once approved by the Board of Trustees, the voluntary program would allow the college to fill replacements internally while allowing restructuring to eliminate unnecessary positions. Claremont McKenna College has already implemented an early retirement program, but with a 45-day time window for employees to respond, it is difficult to tell what the final impact will be.
If early retirement programs do not prove effective enough in decreasing labor costs, the college may consider limiting work hours for part-time and on-call workers, while preserving the 40-hour work schedules of full-time employees. In addition, the college is currently taking a closer look at each position to see how the work can be streamlined to cut down on overtime hours. According to Margie McKenna, Assistant Director of Campus Planning and Maintenance Operations, her office plans to conduct a study of campus facilities to determine where workers are deployed and how they can ensure time is not wasted on unnecessary tasks.
“The ideal situation is to have the right people with the right skills in the right jobs,” Sisson said. “We want to have the right number of staff to ensure that the quality of life at Pomona remains at the highest level that it can.”
Although the administration says that sacrifices will be made in all departments and by all employees, the Workers’ Support Committee charges that budget cuts may disproportionately hurt lower-income staff.
“We’re in a system where there are already disproportionate allotments of resources to different groups,” said WSC senior member Robin Margolis PO ‘09. “Saying something is the same for everyone is not the same as seeing how those changes affect each community. For staff at the level of administration, it’s not a matter of putting food on the table.”
At a meeting with Sisson and other members of the administration, the WSC called for greater transparency and worker input in the budgeting process, and asked the administration to consider the effects of budget cuts on workers’ welfare. While the administration contended that the purpose of the college was to provide a quality education and everything else was peripheral to that goal, the committee argued that workers are at the core of the Pomona community.
“The most valuable part of my education here at Pomona is the community,” said WSC member Sarah Burgess PO ’09.
Committee members also felt that the administration was not being upfront about recent reductions in dining hall workers’ hours. Despite claims by Dining Services General Manager Dave Janosky that no regular hours had been cut, a number of dining hall employees claimed otherwise in their conversations with the WSC.
“There needs to be some consistency and transparency in how their hours are being cut,” said senior member Gladys Reyes PO ’09.
Following the meeting, Sisson and her staff went through employee timecards and were able to find some discrepancies that they immediately moved to rectify. “Workers were feeling that they couldn’t come to us,” Sisson said. “We can go check, we can solve the problem.”
To some on the committee, such miscommunication is indicative of a larger problem of transparency between staff and administrators. The WSC claims that the administration may not be doing enough to ensure that all staff have access to information about their job security, and that lunchtime staff forums discriminate against workers who cannot leave their posts to attend. Sisson says that she does not want to exclude any portion of the Pomona community, but that education efforts are sometimes constrained by the size of the student body and workforce.
“The students need to understand that they’re not the only ones that care about workers,” she said. “I don’t have any philosophical objections to [the WSC’s suggestions], but I do have logistical problems.”
Hoping to educate the entire Pomona community on the budgetary issues at hand, Sisson and her staff will continue to meet with student, faculty, and staff in the coming weeks to get input on next year’s budget before it is presented to the Board of Trustees in May. A second student forum is scheduled for Apr. 22.