FTE formula fails to add-up to #036;700,000 deficit

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 31, 2007

AHOSKIE – The figures do not add up.

At the Aug. 28 meeting of the Roanoke-Chowan Community College (RCCC) Board of Trustees, college president Dr. Ralph Soney broke the news of a $700,000 deficit in the school’s 2007-08 budget.

Dr. Soney explained that the majority of the deficit was tied to the loss of FTE (Full Time Equivalent) money RCCC receives annually from the state community college system for each student who is taking 16 hours of class instruction per semester for two semesters.

According to Dr. Soney, 22 FTE’s were lost in the area of Curriculum and three in Literacy (Basic Skills).

He said drastic measures were necessary to balance the budget.

At a special called meeting of the RCCC Trustees on Sept. 6, the board voted to invoke Board Policy 3.7 (Financial Exigency Reduction in Force). That measure allowed Dr. Soney to proceed with “cause to be established rules and procedures governing review, reassignment or reduction in force of college personnel due to financial exigency.”

Over the next few weeks, seven RCCC employees were terminated. According to payroll records supplied to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald by RCCC, through the board attorney John D. Leidy, the annual salaries and benefits of those seven terminated employees totals $351,136.92.

But was their sacrifice necessary. Was a reduction in force really needed to fill an alleged $700,000 void, a deficit that Dr. Soney, in a two-page discussion sheet distributed among the trustees and media at the Aug. 28 meeting, reported, “$700,000 in the hole due to loss of enrollment if we spend at the rate planned,” and “cuts need to be made to balance the budget.”

According to the North Carolina Community College System website, a loss of 22 FTE’s in Curriculum (valued at $4,746.30 per student) equates to a void of $104,418.60. In Basic Skills ($5,250.68 per student), RCCC lost $15,752.04 in state funding.

However, RCCC gained eight FTE’s in Extension funds from last year. Listed at $4,133.06 per student, the college secured an additional $33,064.48 worth of state funds. That left a net FTE deficit of $87,106.16. That figure is a far cry from the $700,000 deficit Dr. Soney first reported in August.

Meanwhile, the seven terminated employees, who met collectively with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald on Oct. 18, claim that questionable management practices at RCCC are to blame for the deficit, not the loss of FTE.

“The fiscal management of the college is in question,” said Barbara Lies of Aulander who served RCCC for nearly seven years, first as a part-time Clinical Instructor and later as a full-time Nurse Retention Specialist before losing her job.

She continued, “Dr. Soney seemed surprised to see the need for financial exigency. A good manager would have seen it coming.”

“He should have known it, he caused it,” said Ethelene G. Custis of Ahoskie, a 10-year RCCC veteran as a Financial Aid Officer prior to being terminated.

Evelyn Vinson of Murfreesboro spent 27 years at RCCC as a Curriculum Maintenance Specialist before becoming a victim of the reduction in force policy. Vinson said she was called into Dr. Soney’s office on Sept. 14 where she learned of her fate.

“He (Soney) told me he was doing this for my health,” said Vinson who used a walker to enter and exit the News-Herald office during the group’s Oct. 18 interview. “(Due to medical reasons) I worked in a wheelchair for eight months. In August, Dr. Soney recognized me as the Staff Member of the Year, then he fires me.”

But what really upset Vinson was what Soney asked her next.

“It’s my job to help put together the class schedules,” Vinson said. “Dr. Soney knew there was no one else that could do that and he knew that the spring (2008) semester schedules needed to be ready fairly soon. So he asked me would I stay for another month. Here he was, first saying he was concerned about my health and then he asks me to stay and do a job he knew no one else knew how to do. I refused his offer.”

Vinson went on to say that she didn’t come to the News-Herald interview to “destroy anyone; just here to tell the truth.”

Another of the terminated employees, Jodi Aerts, the college’s former Director of Admissions and an 18-year RCCC employee before she was fired on Sept. 13, claimed that two staff members were needed to teach three students. She said that went against what Dr. Soney had termed as targeting duplicative positions in regards to cutting back on staff.

“What I want to know is if we are in financial exigency, then why did we just hire a barbering instructor without a license to teach and then had to bring in a licensed barbering instructor to oversee a barbering program with three students enrolled,” Aerts said.

In keeping with her duplicative positions theme, Aerts also said there were three individuals listed as Student Activities coordinators/counselors.

In regards to both of her claims, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald has attempted to contact RCCC administrators by phone. Those attempts led to electronic responses by Amy Wiggins, RCCC’s Human Resources Coordinator, who advised the News-Herald to submit its questions via e-mail. That advisement was heeded and e-mails were sent on Thursday of last week and again on Tuesday of this week. Those questions remain unanswered, as did follow-up telephone calls placed yesterday (Wednesday) to Wiggins as well as Dr. Soney.

There were also claims of unfair hiring practices. Robert Chadwick Jr., former Coordinator of the RCCC Weekend and Evening College program before losing his job due to financial exigency, said three senior administrators hired over the last two years were brought onboard during the month of June, rather than July, so they would qualify for the state raises that occur July 1.

“Personal relationships with the powers that be seem to be the criteria for jobs, not for being the best to educate our young people,” Chadwick said.

Chadwick, one of a majority of the terminated employees who is seeking legal advice, also alleged that some RCCC senior administrators, including Dr. Soney, Finance and Administrative Services Dean Carolyn LaDow and Workforce and Student Development Senior Dean

A.J. Tyson, live outside the Roanoke-Chowan area and commute each day to and from college.

“They don’t live here, they don’t pay taxes here and they don’t have a vested interest here,” Chadwick said.

When he was hired effective Nov. 1, 2005, Dr. Soney’s two-year contract at that time contained a clause which stated, “the president agrees to maintain residency in the service area for Roanoke-Chowan Community College throughout the term of his employment.” There is no evidence that Dr. Soney lived-up to that portion of his original contract.

Dr. Soney’s new two-year contract, which took effect on July 1 of this year, contains no residency requirement. Rather, he agrees to “maintain a presence within the service area for Roanoke-Chowan Community College throughout the term of his employment.”

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald will further explore the residency issue in an upcoming article. In the News-Herald’s online poll question from last week, more than 8 in 10 (419-99) responders said they thought Dr. Soney should reside within RCCC’s service area.