2014-12-18 / Schools

Brookdale cuts staff in face of financial crisis

By ADAM C. UZIALKO
Staff Writer

The Brookdale Community College board of trustees voted 11-1 to approve the president’s proposal for a reduction in force that eliminates 47 positions at the college.

The action, which was taken at the board’s Dec. 11 meeting, will eliminate a $5.5 million deficit in the college’s budget, according to Board Chairman Dr. Carl Guzzo.

“The anticipated savings of what we did tonight will close the deficit,” Guzzo said.

Under the plan, there will be a net reduction of 47 positions. A total of 208 positions will be eliminated, 35 of which are vacant. A total of 127 new positions will be created to more closely align job functions to the redesigned departments, according to a Brookdale spokesman.

The plan, which had been modified from a previous proposal; reduced the net total of jobs to be eliminated; and keeps the campus fitness center, Children’s Learning Center and Brookdale Television from shutting down.

Still, students, staff and faculty delivered statement after statement demanding the board reconsider and find alternatives.

In the end, trustee Lora Campbell was the only member to vote “no” after delivering a prepared statement.

“After listening to all who have spoken, please understand that change is difficult, but it is necessary,” Campbell said. “However, until further research and analysis takes place, I cannot support this plan — and I vote ‘no.’ ”

Additional fees will be levied to support the fitness center, which operates at an annual loss of about $250,000.

The Children’s Learning Center, which operates at a loss of $350,000 per year, will remain open in its current capacity until July 1, at which time the board will consider privatizing it.

Brookdale Television was also kept open, saving the job of a senior production specialist.

But the minor concessions were not enough to pacify the angry crowd of roughly 300 members of the Lincroft college’s community.

History Professor Jess Le Vine admonished the board for not engaging public officials further, a step that only two board members said they had taken.

“If we were on top of this two years ago, we could’ve fixed this, right?” Le Vine said.

Many in attendance advocated for a tuition hike, but trustee Joseph DiBella said a $15-per-credit increase would be unmanageable for students.

“We are going to discuss a tuition increase,” DiBella said. “However, a $15 tuition increase — nearly $600 of an increase to a typical full-time student — would be economically crippling.”

Board members repeatedly stated that an increase in tuition would proportionally increase the additional fees, which are calculated as 24 percent of tuition.

Brookdale’s tuition rate has been relatively constant since fiscal year 2010, according to information provided by Keith Heumiller, Brookdale’s college relations coordinator.

In 2010, rates were $115.50 per credit. Rates rose to $118.50 per credit in fiscal year 2011 and remained as such until 2013, when rates declined once more to $115.50 per credit.

Tuition is scheduled to return to $118.50 per credit in fiscal year 2015.

Freeholder John Curley spoke at the meeting, saying he would “stake his political career” on building support for a tuition hike if the board voted on it during the meeting.

However, a tuition hike was not considered. DiBella said any increases in tuition would only be considered during the crafting of the next budget.

“Tonight is not the night to raise tuition,” DiBella said. “Tuition can only be raised when we contemplate our budget. You can’t raise tuition in the middle of the semester.

“We have to increase tuition, but we have to do so on a reasonable basis. We cannot solve the financial problems of the college on the backs of the students.”

Since 2011, Brookdale has eliminated or deferred more than 50 full-time positions; reduced or frozen all operating budgets; delayed capital expenditures; and enacted a hiring freeze for all noncritical positions, leading to a $2.4 million reduction in expenses for 2014, a press release from the college states.

According to the press release, operating revenues have declined by nearly $14.7 million since 2011, including a $5.7 million decline in tuition. Over the same period, county and state funding to Brookdale has decreased by $9.4 million and $393,000, respectively.

Brookdale’s enrollment for fall 2014 is 14,144 students — down from 14,360 students in fall 2013 and 15,783 students in fall 2010.

“This was a tough thing to do,” Guzzo said in an interview after the meeting, “but we have a financial responsibility as members of the board.”

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