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St. Louis Community College extends buyout offer to 500 employees

St. Louis Community College Chancellor Jeff Pittman at a Board of Trustees meeting on April 20, 2017.
File | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Community College Chancellor Jeff Pittman greets members of the men's basketball team at a Board of Curators meeting Thursday evening.

St. Louis Community College will offer nearly 40 percent of its full-time workforce an early retirement package due to fewer students on its campuses and fewer dollars coming from the Missouri Capitol.

The four-campus network’s Board of Curators approved the plan Thursday night, which college leadership said will allow the school to offer programs and services that boost enrollment and ultimately revenue.

While 529 of the system’s 1,300 employees are eligible to take the voluntary buyouts, Chancellor Jeff Pittman said the school hasn’t “set a monetary goal for how many employees would take advantage of this, or we haven’t identified a number of how many employees might take this.”

That last time buyouts were offered — a decade ago — about 19 percent of eligible workers took the package, according to Pittman.  

The school lost $3.8 million in state funding this spring and the coming fiscal year’s proposed budget includes an even deeper cut.

The college is doing “whatever we can to avoid layoffs,” he said, adding, “I think layoffs are always a possibility. When your revenue is reduced, that’s always unfortunately something that could happen.”

The college is also looking to sell a downtown building and consolidate administrative offices at its Forest Park location.

School leaders say freeing up personnel costs will allow the school to overhaul program offerings, which they hope will attract more students. That could include more continuing education and workforce-training partnerships with companies, Pittman said.

“We need to get ourselves focused on the types of programs that will draw more enrollments in and increase our revenues that way,” he said.

Campus leaders said they’re focused on student experience.

“We’re not in jeopardy, if you will, of any kind of major impact to students, to resources students need to be successful,” Forest Park campus provost Larry Johnson said.

The system serves about 19,000 students in all, a number that’s been trending down since a high of nearly 30,000 during last decade’s recession. That slide is starting to show signs of reversing, according to Pittman.

A 2014 job fair hosted by the Urban League brought a big turnout to the St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley campus on Sept. 14, 2014.
Credit File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
People walk into a job fair at the St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley campus on Sept. 14, 2014.

The college is still staffed for a larger number of students, said math professor James Munden, who’s also chairman of the school’s faculty governance group. “If you have a college staffed at our 2010 numbers for our 2017 numbers, that looks quite drastic, the number students versus the number of employees.”

The early retirement will be available to workers over the age of 55 who have worked for the school for at least five years, or anyone who has worked for 20 years at the college.

Munden said he’s talked to coworkers who are eligible for the buyouts, but they haven’t made decisions yet.

“They’re approaching it cautiously,” he said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney.

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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