Sinclair board approves $130M budget

The Sinclair Community College Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved a roughly $130 million operating budget for the upcoming academic year that includes $6.8 million in savings in the face of coronavirus-related financial hurdles.

The board also approved $1 million for diversity programs and plans to reopen the campus this fall. As part of the reopening plan, employees and students will be required to wear masks.

The operating budget, which college officials say is modest and puts people first, calls for hiring freezes of at least 30 positions. But there are no plans at this time for furloughs or layoffs of full-time employees. School officials continue to work to avoid taking those measures, Sinclair President Steve Johnson said.

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Still, the budget will allow Sinclair to invest in some critical areas for the future and support student learning while also adjusting to the challenges caused by the pandemic, said Adam Murka, vice president of advancement.

“We’re such a people-centered enterprise (so we try to) keep our workforce strong in order to accommodate an enrollment surge that typically would come as unemployment rises,” he said. “So the budget makes investments, it keeps our workforce whole, it does all of that while allowing us to meet very unprecedented market conditions and disruptions that all of us are confronting now.”

Prior to the pandemic, Sinclair’s finances were in good shape, as the college practices fiscal responsibility year-round by not spending in unnecessary areas, which helps maintain a balanced budget, Murka said. Also, the college has no debt or deferred maintenance. So when the coronavirus crisis happened, they were able to tap the rainy day fund and tighten their belts in some areas without having to make deep cuts.

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The board passed a balanced budget despite cuts of $1.9 million in state funding and a drop of about 2% in enrollment. They also had to trim spending in some nonessential areas, such as reducing part-time staff and extra pay for faculty to do work outside the classroom by 15% each and suspend faculty merit and staff incentive pay.

Sinclair officials were able to adjust to the state’s funding cuts because of the conservative spending habits, Murka said. The school developed strategic plans for a range of financial and enrollment scenarios, he said when the cuts were announced in early May.

“Our hope is that through realized efficiencies, through increasing student enrollments or keeping students completing their courses — which matters — and our performance-based funding system that we will plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “We certainly understand that this is a tough environment, and we’re grateful for the support that we get both from the state and from the taxpayers.”

Sinclair is saving about $6.8 million by freezing between 30 and 50 open positions, which includes voluntary separations and the like, Murka said. Those positions are spread throughout the college, and including such areas as IT, facilities, policing, the development office and faculty. They are also suspending travel and incentivizing retirements to help close the budget gaps, Johnson said.

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The board also approved $1 million for diversity programs. The funds will be allocated over the next three to four years. It will be used for training faculty so they can better support students from diverse backgrounds who have different needs than their classmates, Murka said. Some of the funds also will go toward anti-racist programs at the school as well as programs for minority students, he said.

In the past, for example, the staff has taken groups of students on educational trips to Civil Rights museums and the like, he said.

“We see this as an investment in our workforce and an investment in our community as a whole, which the board has identified as a major strategic priority for a number of years,” Murka said. “This is something that we have supported and done for a long time. We have a good story to tell here, we’re very proud of the progress we’ve made. We want everyone at this college to be successful.”

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