Evergreen Implements Layoffs, Furloughs as Part of 10 Percent Cut to Operations Budget

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Facing a drop in fall enrollment and a state budget appropriation that won't entirely cover its fixed costs, The Evergreen State College has implemented staff cuts and furloughs as part of a 10 percent cut to its operating budget for fiscal 2021.

The college's Board of Trustees received a brief update on the budget on Thursday from John Carmichael, vice president of finance and operations for Evergreen, who also provided more detail in a video produced for the meeting.

The 10 percent cut amounts to $5.3 million, he said. That resulted in the elimination of 26 staff positions, most of which were already vacant, although some positions were occupied. Those cuts didn't fill the budget hole, so the college this month announced staff furloughs, requiring one unpaid day per month through the fiscal year.

He emphasized that the need for furloughs was tied to the college's "enrollment condition."

Some Evergreen staff are exempt from the furlough, including classified staff who make $30,000 or less per year, or those staff positions funded by grants, he said.

Carmichael expressed his gratitude for "staff and faculty unions coming together and engaging with us as partners in a really difficult time," although he added that the faculty impacts are still an unknown.

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The culprit in all of this is COVID-19, the worldwide virus that has slowed the economy statewide and created what Chief Enrollment Officer Eric Pedersen called, "unprecedented uncertainty" for students.

Evergreen projects 2,442 undergraduate and graduate students to enroll in the fall, but now the school could fall short of that goal, Pedersen said, possibly sinking as low as 2,050 students. More optimistically, fall enrollment might only dip to 2,350 students, he said.

Part of the projection challenge is that because of the virus, the college pushed back the date for new students to register to June 1 from April 27 last year, he said.

"Five fewer weeks between now and the beginning of the term," said Pedersen. "That's where the (projection) uncertainty is coming from."

Meanwhile, the college is working had to attract and retain students. He said the college's marketing department is advertising the school as welcoming, affordable and relevant, and the admissions department is reaching out to former students who attended Evergreen but never graduated.

Bigger picture ideas to help enrollment: the college has proposed name and structural changes so that Evergreen could become Evergreen State University and President George Bridges on Thursday talked about Evergreen collaborating with other schools.

Citing the example of some colleges in Pennsylvania, he said they consolidated their operations without losing their identities.

"Partnerships with other institutions will be part of Evergreen's future," Bridges said, calling it a "good thing."

Board of Trustees Chairwoman Karen Fraser summed up the state of the budget.

"I"m sorry 'we're here,' but we are here," she said.

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