Two instructors at Barton Community College who would normally expect to see their contracts renewed this month are facing the possibility of being “non-renewed,” raising questions about the future of theater and journalism programs at the college.
Erin Renard, director of the college’s theater program, and Peter Solie, who heads the journalism program, were listed as possibilities for non-renewal for reason of “financial exigency” when college trustees reviewed the faculty contract list last week.
College trustees and administrators have known for some time that there will be less money to work with next year. Oil valuations are about half of what they were a year ago and state aid has remained flat since 2009. To make up a possible shortfall of $1.1 million or more, the college is increasing tuition and not filling positions as they become vacant.
By law, teachers must be notified by May 1 if their contracts won’t be renewed. The trustees will vote on faculty contract renewals on April 23.
Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman said it’s too early say what will happen to the journalism and theater programs, even if the board follows the administration’s tentative recommendation on contracts.
“It’s unclear at this point,” he said. “It’s inappropriate to make hard-core budget decisions before you have all the information.”
While it’s known that oil valuations are down, the county’s property valuations have not be set, and neither has the amount of state aid the college will receive from the Legislature. According to some estimates, the state of Kansas faces at least a $200 million budget shortfall this fiscal year and a deficit of up to $600 million next year, unless taxes are raised and expenditures are cut. The Legislature, awaiting new revenue estimates, is scheduled to return April 29.
“It’s not an order which is ideal,” Heilman said. “You have to make decisions based on what you know. I don’t want to get into possibilities and details. If the dollars are tightened up further, yes, we’ll have to look at the programs.”
Heilman said the situation is not unique to Barton. Even if contracts aren’t renewed this month, there’s the possibility they could be offered again when the financial picture improves.
“If we can bring them back when we get a more accurate budget picture, we will,” he said. That includes positions that are being left unfilled as instructors retire or leave for other reasons. “There are five full-time positions not being filled and other positions could be left vacant if an employee resigns.