Merced College to lay off 15 workers

LOS BANOS — Citing hefty cuts in state funding, the Merced College board of trustees decided last week to lay off 15 employees.

A meeting room at the college's tiny Los Banos satellite campus teemed with unhappy employees, the bulk of them wearing bright blue union T-shirts.

"I can't help but look at the students and what they stand to lose," said Wilma Prine, one of the employees who lost her job. "When we look at 15 classified positions being cut, it is a lot more than 15 individuals. Please consider the effect it will have on students."

The departments hit by the layoffs include: Disabled Student Services, Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, Financial Aid, Cal-Works, Student Activities, and others.

Mary Doblack, an instructional aide in the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services department, which offers services to students who are educationally or economically disadvantaged, said the effect on students should be of utmost importance to the board.

"This is a wonderful program that I started in at Merced College and moved on to UC Merced. I received my degrees because of EOPS," Doblack recalled, through tears at Tuesday's meeting. "I just would really encourage the board to think of more creative ways (to save money over layoffs)."

Doblack said some of the college's neediest students would lose critical services in the middle of this semester, and said that was not fair.

Describing what she stood to lose personally, she told the board: "I will be just another unemployed person in Merced with no job opportunities," before walking away sobbing.

Huge funding losses cited

College President Ben Duran said the cuts were necessary after losing nearly $5 million in expected state funding, and an estimation of federal stimulus funds headed for the 10,000-student campus proved to be off significantly.

As recently as three weeks ago, the college expected more than $1 million in stimulus funding, but now knows it will receive a little more than $300,000.

The employees, many of whom car-pooled to the meeting from Merced, were upset for a number of reasons, including continued funding for newly created positions in administration and the short notice before the layoffs were proposed.

Union members felt more could have been done to work together before employees had to be laid off.

Christine Grimaldi, president of Local Chapter 247 of the California School Employees Association, said some of the new administrators should have taken a pay cut or furlough before student services were cut.

The college restructured its upper-level administration this summer, leading to seven academic deans at the 10,000-student campus. New leaders in four of the positions recently were hired with salaries ranging from $102,301 to $158,702.

All but one of the layoffs approved Tuesday will take effect Nov. 21. Duran, Grimaldi and board members said alternative cost-saving measures such as furloughs or pay cuts could be negotiated before that date to save the jobs.

"We are willing to discuss any and all options," Grimaldi said. "I just wonder why layoffs were our first and only option."

Also Tuesday, the board approved the college's $58.7 million budget.

The budget includes $51.4 million in expenses, with the extra cash remaining in an economic uncertainties fund required by the state.

Salary expenses will stay roughly the same this fiscal year, with a less than 1 percent increase. Expenses for benefits, supplies and services also will increase slightly.

All yearly automatic raises included in employees' contracts and health benefits will continue as normal, according to the budget proposal.