The recent layoffs of classified staff raised tensions at the latest College Planning Council meeting on March 2.
“It felt like this decision was made in secret,” said council member Beth Taylor-Schott. “This decision could have been opened up to more conversation and collaboration.”
The three layoffs and one position elimination were approved on Feb. 25 by the Board of Trustees during a closed session portion of its meeting.
Any discussion regarding personnel discipline, dismissal or layoffs are typically held in closed session to protect the privacy of the individual, though the position elimination was part of the public portion of the meeting.
These actions are part of a larger plan announced by Superintendent-President Utpal Goswami to reduce “personnel expenditures” in order to balance the budget.
“The positions are being defunded,” said council member Michael Shanahan. “This is a funding thing”
The laid-off positions will save the college about $370,000 in the next budget.
“The Board is committed to end up with a balanced budget in two years,” Superintendent-President Utpal Goswami said. “We are doing the work that we need to do in year one.”
Layoffs have always been a possibility to balance the budget, but some college community members said they were reassured it would be an unlikely last resort.
“I’m wondering if this really truly is the last resort,” said Jesse Felix, purchasing administrative assistant, during public comment.
The layoffs came as a surprise to many, though there had been a push to find ways to cut back on personnel costs at shared governance meetings this year.
“I don’t know whether people were in a place where they didn’t want to believe it,” said council member Raeanne Napoleon. “These things have been clear for several months.”
There was some controversy over the language used to describe the topic of the closed session portion of the Board of Trustees meeting. The agenda item was listed as “public employee discipline/dismissal/release,” though this was in order to meet public meeting guidelines.
“We have talked to our lawyers and that’s what we used, ” Goswami said. “When it comes to the Brown Act we have to do it exactly by the book.”
The Brown Act guarantees the public the right to participate in government meetings, with some exceptions—one of those exceptions is personnel matters.
Some expressed that the language misrepresented what actually happened.
“It sounded like those people were going to be dismissed because of disciplinary action,” said council member Liz Auchincloss.
Goswami said he would check with lawyers again to see if it could have been made clearer.
“I knew from the beginning when I laid out the plans to get a balanced budget in two years that we would have to make some very very difficult choices, this being one of them,” he said.