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|Technical colleges face budget cuts, too|
Technical college officials are optimistic proposed budget cuts for the technical college system will not be as severe as currently projected.
Norene Smith, regional director for the Region 8 Louisiana Technical College, says state officials believe too strongly in the services the technical college system provides. According to Smith, that's why state officials will not ask the technical college system to absorb steep cuts in its operating budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The technical college system faces budget cuts in light of the Legislature's effort to trim $1.3 billion in expenditures from its 2009-10 fiscal year budget.
Region 8 currently faces a $1.3-million cut out of its $9.5 budget, or about a 14 percent cut, Smith said. Higher education in general faces a $219 million budget cut for the new fiscal year.
"That's a big cut for us," Smith said, referring to the $1.3 million budget cut. "We just don't have a lot of leeway in our budget, and we utilize every penny of it."
"We're talking about people and programs," Smith continued. "Certainly if we have to go this deep, we will look at multi-departments and not close a whole program, but it would limit us with the services we provide."
Proposed budget cuts could affect people like Emerson "Butch" Oaks of Calhoun, Russell Bryan of Dubach or Jerrell May of Bastrop. They all looked to the technical college system after recently being laid off from their jobs.
For the past 18 years, Oaks has been a poultry farmer, growing chickens for Pilgrim's Pride.
"All of the turmoil with the bankruptcy and the plant being shut down has given me a new outlook," Oaks said. "It opened my eyes to possibilities, and I knew I had to update my skills. That's why I chose LTC-Region 8."
"I looked at Louisiana Tech and Delta Community College and they didn't offer what I wanted," Oaks explained. "LTC-Region 8 had more of what I wanted and the schedule was a lot more flexible and forgiving to my time schedule."
"I've been through high school, college and military training and this offers a totally unique experience," Oaks added.
Oaks is being trained for industrial instrumentation. He expects to finish his work at LTC-Region 8 in less than two years.
Russell Bryan is currently learning electronic instrumentation. He was self-employed and decided on a career change. LTC-Region 8 was close to home and he heard it was a good place to attend.
Jerrell May of Bastrop was a longtime employee of International Paper.
"This was the closest facility that offered what I wanted," May said.
He chose to pursue electronic instrumentation because it was similar to what he did at IP.
Overall, the Louisiana Technical College System anticipates roughly $28 million in budget cuts.
Smith hopes the Legislature will find funding to help reduce the proposed cuts in half, so instead of a 14 percent cut, Region 8 would take a 7 percent cut, or roughly $500,000.
Region 8 has prepared two budget scenarios to address the proposed cuts in state funding. One budget involves a funding cut at 15 percent, and the second one shows what Region 8 would do with a 30 percent cut in funding.
Either one would result in a reduction of people and programs, Smith said.
"We're just kind of on hold till the session's over, and we'll have to take action at that point," Smith said.
She said these budget cuts come at a time when the technical college system has seen more people enter the system in need of its services.
This year, Region 8 saw a 29 percent increase in growth, Smith said.
If the proposed cuts pan out, then "there will be no more growth," she said. "For instance, with wielding, if we have two teachers and 30 booths, and we let one (teacher) go, we'll only be able to take about 15 or 20 students. We're just not going to be able to serve as many. And, there's a big push now to work with our high school students with dual enrollment, and we won't be able to serve as many if we take the cuts we're anticipating today.
"Our governor's platform was workforce development and retraining our workforce, and to cut us at a time like this … in my 36 years I have never seen our system on a roll with growth and the services we're providing. I never in my wildest dreams thought we would have 500 dually-enrolled students. We had 50 from Neville alone."
High school students who are dual-enrolled with a community or technical college obtain job training while also earning college credit.
Legislators have told Louisiana Technical College officials they are concerned with the proposed funding reduction and will look for money to offset these cuts to higher education.
"I don't think there's a legislator who's not with us," Smith said. "I think one of the things they will have to look at is the Rainy Day Fund. I know that's one-time money, but you see, we haven't had a lot of notice to prepare for this, and that would at least get us in a position to really go in and look at every program.
"We have not had an opportunity to do that, but if we could buy ourselves a little time, we could really scrub a little more."