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Ex-RCCC staffers question policy

AHOSKIE – Was the proper procedure followed during the recent termination of faculty/staff members at Roanoke-Chowan Community College?

Seven former RCCC staffers collectively agree that the policy once posted on the community college’s website was not used during the termination process. In regards to that alleged failure to follow procedure, two terminated employees said they are currently seeking legal advice. Three others admitted they were considering legal action.

At the center of the issue is RCCC Board of Trustees Policy 3.7 n “Financial Exigency Reduction in Force.” That policy was invoked Sept. 6 at a special called meeting of the trustees. There, the board gave RCCC President Dr. Ralph Soney the green light to proceed with “cause to be established rules and procedures governing review, reassignment or reduction in force of college personnel due to financial exigency.”

This measure came on the heels of a regularly scheduled Aug. 28 meeting of the trustees where Dr. Soney informed the board of approximately $700,000 in state revenue shortfalls due to declining student enrollment.

Within the wording of Board Policy 3.7 was this paragraph, “These rules and procedures for reduction in force are published and made available to all college employees through Administrative Procedure 03-0902.”

That six-page procedure, of which the News-Herald obtained a copy prior to its removal from the RCCC website, gives a guideline to follow in case there is a reduction in force.

One of the key elements of that procedure is the appointment of an ad hoc committee comprised of not less than seven members representing the faculty, support personnel and administration, excluding the president. That committee is charged with the duties of gathering all information necessary for the president to make the necessary reductions in force.

“To our knowledge, there was no ad hoc committee,” Barbara Lies, a former Nurse Retention Specialist and Clinical Instructor who was among those who lost their jobs. “To our knowledge, Dr. Soney made these reduction in force decisions on his own.”

Another item of contention concerning the policy not being followed was that no consideration was given to veteran employees of the college.

Administrative Procedure 03-0902 states that permanent, full-time employees shall be retained over probationary or part-time employees in their six months of training in positions that have the same or closely related classification titles.

With the exception of one terminated employee, Robert Chadwick who had only been with the college for 13 months, the other six (all women) were RCCC veterans, boasting of a combined 79 years on the job. Evelyn Vinson of Murfreesboro topped that seniority listing with 27 years in the roles of Curriculum Maintenance Specialist and Assistant to the Registrar.

Vinson, who in August was recognized as the RCCC Staff Member of the Year, said there were three staffers within her department. The other two, both who retained their jobs, have a combined 16 years with the college (one with only two years).

Ethelene Custis of Ahoskie spent 10 years as a Financial Aid Officer prior to being terminated. She was part of a three-person department n one with 27 years and the other with less than eight months on the job.

Lies said she was among a six-member department.

“One had been here three weeks when I was let go,” Lies said. “Another had been here less than two semesters, but yet I was the one let go.”

Lies pointed out that the two newcomers in her department were both from Pitt County and drove back-and-forth each day to RCCC.

“Just like the president, who lives in Winterville,” she said.

Lies said she asked Dr. Soney why Administrative Procedure 03-0902 was not followed.

“He told me that procedure was not ratified and therefore was not in effect,” Lies said. “I called Fred Williams, Vice-President of the state’s Community College system, and Mr. Williams told me that if the procedure was listed on the website, then it was the procedure that must be followed.”

Lies went on to say that not long after bringing this to Soney’s attention, the procedure was removed from the website.

At the Sept. 6 special called meeting, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald was given a two-page procedure for establishing reduction in force due to financial exigency. There was no mention of an ad hoc committee. In a press release to the News-Herald the following morning (Sept. 7), Dr. Soney said “positions targeted are those that have the least benefit overall to the College in terms of function and operation; some positions that have been recently hired; positions that are duplicative and can be merged through the reassigning of tasks to other positions and positions that are in areas with an excessive amount of workforce or personnel needed to adequately perform the duties at hand.”

That press release went on to say, “the reduction in force will net a total savings for the college of $572,016, which will bring the approved college budget in line with this year’s state allocation.”

“If Dr. Soney had followed procedure, then some of the new employees he hired from Pitt County, Elizabeth City and Statesville would have been the ones terminated,” Lies said.

“There are a select few who are privy to all the perks, not the ones who have worked hard for years to make this college what it is,” Chadwick noted. “I’m not talking about myself. I had only been with the college for 13 months. I’m talking about these six ladies who, after putting in all that work over the years, were unfairly terminated.”

Chadwick closed by saying, “The community doesn’t have a clue what’s going on at the college. The trustees need to step up to the plate and put an end to this nonsense. After all, they’re the ones who will be left with egg on their face when the college is forced to close its doors because of financial mismanagement.”

NEXT: Formal grievances are filed