UPDATE FROM PRESIDENT, JASON S. WOOD, Ph.D. – April 14, 2020
Dear College Community,
The COVID-19 pandemic may have prevented us from meeting in-person for this April’s in-service but I enjoyed “being” together anyway. I am continually impressed by our ability to come together while we must remain apart physically. As we move forward it is important we are as inclusive as the situation allows to help create the best outcomes for our college as whole. The feedback that I have received from you has been crucial in making decisions and to continue to do what we do best…serve students. If you have thoughts or ideas, please send me a note or give me a call.
Eventual Return to Campus – Scenario Planning Underway
The Emergency Operations Team is actively gathering information to inform our multi-scenario plan for reopening campus at some point. While no date for return has been decided, we are exploring multiple possibilities. When a decision is made, it will be very clearly communicated. More importantly, we are closely following the trends and striving to better understand the entirety of the crisis situation. We will consult with health care experts, our insurance company, and college attorneys prior to opening campus. The first step is getting feedback from you. On Monday, the Emergency Operations Team met with all supervisors at the college. Each supervisor will complete a review of their areas of responsibilities and submit an analysis including options and recommendations. The Emergency Operations Team will then review all documents and use the data to inform the plan for faculty, staff, and students to eventually return to campus.
It is also important to note we have already begun a very deliberate and intentional process to allow a few students to return to face-to-face learning. These students are in academic programs essential to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, only a few students nearing graduation in midwifery have access to earning credits for hands-on learning through their clinical requirements. There are several layers of additional safety and awareness protocols to protect these students to the extent possible while they complete their programs. We will follow a similar process to providing opportunities for students in other programs in the near future. The goal is to help all students complete their in-person, hands-on learning when it is safe and possible to do so. These decisions will be shared when available.
Finally, we will implement a tiered approach, over time, to returning people to campus. Please stay tuned for additional protocols related to campus safety and the health and wellness of our people as we are able to return at some point in the coming months. We are intentionally being deliberate and will likely lag behind others who may choose to return earlier. We do this so we can learn from others and out of an abundance of precaution for your health and well-being.
During in-service we outlined some of the considerations and assumptions related to building the 2020-2021 annual budget. Essentially, we anticipate general uncertainty and high volatility, both now and throughout the upcoming year. There are broad gaps between best case/worse case scenarios with conflicting data regarding most likely outcomes. Each of our revenue streams is more unstable and at risk now than ever before. I will reiterate the deep concerns I have with investing one-time funding for on-going expenses (i.e. using reserves to build base salaries through cost-of-living increases). Expenditures will most likely increase if not actively controlled. The Wisconsin Technical College System Office and the District Boards Association advise preparing budgets based on a 5% to 20% reduction of our near $10,500,000 in state aid.
In order to put our college in the best position now, over the next year, and in the long term, we will consider various options for each of the following questions:
- Do we invest in cost-of-living pay increases added to base salaries, as one-time payments, or not at all? If yes, when is the best time to do so – July 1, mid-year, or with next year’s budget?
- Is a reduction-in-force necessary on July 1, mid-year, a year from now, or not at all?
- Alternatively, are there other options including unpaid leave, retirement incentives, or leaving open positions unfilled that we should consider?
- How much of our reserves should we invest now, over the course of the year, or later?
- If there are enrollment or profit-generating initiatives, how will we determine which are the most likely to have a significant return on investment and make a significant contribute to a solution?
Several dozen faculty and staff have reached out, in very selfless acts, to be part of the solution and voluntarily offered to forego a raise – it’s humbling to watch. One or two people have anonymously and somewhat vaguely indicated a preference for pay raises without prioritization of the other options but it is hard to follow up with questions about priorities or the suitability of alternatives. I will continue to listen to feedback, preferably by email, and then provide an analysis of my perspective, along with recommendations, to the Board of Directors at their meeting on April 23. Their guidance will direct the budget we plan to present for approval later in the process. You are each encouraged to provide input, ask questions, or propose options for consideration. My thanks to Ken Straka, public safety assistant, for his submission of a creative option which is included in the questions above.
Most importantly, we have been fiscally conservative over the years and have some reserves to help us through this situation. In other words, we are operating from a position of relative strength despite the financial chaos. We can, and we will, create a positive outcome for the college as a whole.
Next College Forum
We will meet again, via Zoom, on April 24 at noon. The agenda will include:
- Update from the April 23 Board of Directors meeting
- More information on what to expect during May and, as much as possible, through the summer
- Details about the Charger Cooperative Network (you can learn more now on Yammer/Hub)
- Enrollment trends/forecast and efforts to reach more students
- Faculty and staff sharing their stories including overcoming struggles and creating successes
We will also have a Question and Answer session and you are welcome to submit recommendations for specific agenda items when you receive the notice from Karen Campbell. Karen will also put the appointment on your calendars with the meeting details.
Seeking Professional Support
There are many, many efforts being made to care for each other. It is inspiring to see all of the ways you are checking in on each other’s well-being. Please know there are times when professional support is the best option. If you are feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope, please contact professional assistance through licensed counselors who can nurture your mental and emotional health. Simply contact Life Matters, (Employee Assistance Program info and password attached) for confidential support sessions. We hope the care and support you receive helps you.
Preventing the Spread of COVID-19
The better we do limiting the spread of the virus, the sooner we can move forward together. Please consult the attached recommendations from the CDC to reinforce what we have learned about protecting ourselves and others from getting sick. Simple reminders:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Stay home as much as possible – If you do have to go out, practice social distancing
- Use a cloth face cover when around others in public
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
Finally, you have certainly read enough from me over the last month. I cannot say “thank you” enough for all you are doing to help students and care for each other. Your examples kindle my optimism. My hope is that when this crisis concludes, our selfless service to each other continues. Our choice to happily help others will create solutions we never imagined. I don’t know if this pandemic is the defining crisis of our lifetimes, but thank you to those who are choosing actions that will improve lives during this time. May you enjoy the new beginnings of spring and receive renewed happiness through your commitment to act on your hopes for humanity.
Jason S. Wood, Ph.D.
President of Southwest Tech