Northland Tech braces for layoffs
Administrators at Northland Community and Technical College say they still hope state budget negotiators can avoid a July 1 government shutdown, but layoff notices could go out to about half the college's roughly 300 employees on Friday.
Anne Temte, president of the college with campuses in East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, said Northland and other institutions in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system also are looking to Gov. Mark Dayton to allow them to use institutional reserves to avoid a disruption.
"This has been a long, slow march up to this point and finally something has to happen," Temte said Wednesday after huddling with other administrators to assess the bleak reports from St. Paul, where negotiators from the DFL governor's office and Republican legislative leaders have been battling over a fiscal 2012 state budget.
Without a deal, MnSCU could be required to send out as many as 6,000 layoff notices system-wide on Friday.
At Northland, "we have several groups of employees to whom we have to give 21-day notice" before they can be laid off, Temte said. Those employees, including clerical, maintenance, food service and other non-academic workers, represent about half of the college's workforce, she said.
Temte said MnSCU's board of trustees met in emergency session Wednesday morning, and "our leaders at the system office have been working very hard to get permission to access reserve cash to keep the system going."
All the Minnesota state colleges and universities have their own reserves, she said. Northland, with an annual budget of about $24 million, has a reserve of about $2.6 million, but it must get authorization to use that cash. That happened in 2001, Temte said, allowing the state schools to navigate through a shutdown that year.
"It is now in the governor's hands to say 'yes' or 'no,'" she said. "Or he may let it sit there until we get closer to the shutdown.
"What's really a shame here is that all the people involved in this (budget impasse) are very good people committed to the welfare of the people of Minnesota, but they are locked in an intractable disagreement that they have not been able to resolve.
"We certainly hope there will be some give, from one side or the other or both."
If it could access its reserve, she said, Northland "would be able to get through our summer session and get the fall session started." She said she hopes "to use the reserve and then get a budget negotiated where we could be reimbursed."
Her primary concern, she said, "is that we have so many students who, in the summer, make their plans so they're ready for fall. Interrupting the progress of our students is what we are deeply, deeply concerned about."
At its two campuses, Northland has a student enrollment of about 2,800 full-year equivalents, or about 4,700 individual students.
Temte said representatives of unions with members at Northland attended Wednesday's MnSCU board meeting, and they will communicate with their membership. "We're also preparing an email to go out to all employees to explain what's happening."
People are concerned, she said, but not panicking.
"Everybody has been hearing about what's happening at the Legislature and the possibility of a shutdown," Temte said. "I think people here in our part of the country tend not to be catastrophic. Rather, we're going to hope and pray" for a resolution.
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