“The budget stinks, and everybody knows the budget stinks,” said SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, laying it on the line as more than 50 stakeholders met for NYSUT’s annual community college summit to prepare for the upcoming legislative session.
“I think we can all unite in the theme that we need more federal aid,” he said. “Community colleges are an important educational access point, and the community college network (is a) foundation of our economic recovery.”
Participants agreed that federal pandemic relief is long overdue, but that recovery will require enhanced revenue at the state level, as well.
“New York has been hit very hard by the pandemic and the economic crisis, especially the community colleges, in a big way,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. Gathering SUNY officials, local college presidents and labor leaders from the campuses is invaluable. “Things have changed, and with labor and management working together, we present a unified message to policymakers,” he said.
The statewide union “is committed to supporting our community colleges and working with SUNY to find solutions,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango.
The threat of 20 percent funding cuts this winter loom large, if more funding cannot be secured. College leaders strived to keep students whole in the fall. It may be impossible in the spring to maintain those relationships with students and fiscal balance.
“It’s a matter of cash flow,” said Michael Baston, president of Rockland CC. “If you don’t have the money you can’t pay your bills. Operating without all your resources is like working with one hand tied behind your back.”
Roberta Elins, president of the United College Employees of Fashion Institute of Technology and a member of NYSUT’s Board, discussed the importance of unity on the topic of campus COVID-19 testing.
Elins said that in bimonthly meetings, CC union leaders have been pushing for the autonomous locals to share bargaining language as they negotiate memoranda of understanding with their employers. Most of the locals have reached agreements, she said. Malatras said that consistent language is invaluable in policy discussions.
“We have our work cut out for us,” said Pallotta, but with teamwork and the chancellor on board, “we’re in a good place.”