On January 2, 2014 Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos released his office’s financial audit of Nassau Community College for the academic years 2006-2007 through 2010-2011. (The press release announcing the audit is here; the audit itself is here; and the college’s partial response—the full response is included in the audit report itself—is here. You can read a copy of the Newsday article about the audit here, and Acting President Saunder’s letter to the editor in response here.) As summarized in the press release, “the major findings included inadequate billing and collection practices that resulted in $14 million being uncollected from 2006—August 2011 while reserves were drawn down to pay for operations and tuition was increased in 2013.” The audit does note, and the college describes in its response, the measures the administration has taken to begin to address the operational inefficiencies that led to this deficit, but those measures do nothing to answer the questions the audit raises for us.
Just how accurate, for example, is the financial picture the administration has been drawing for us since at least 2009, when, under Michael Freeman and Donald Astrab, they refused to accept the millions of dollars in savings our offer to extend that contract would have realized. They told us that we were the problem, that what we were offering would not have made enough of a difference. They did not tell us—and we assume they knew, since those uncollected funds had to have been reflected somewhere in the budget, even if we could not find them—that they themselves were responsible for a significant portion of the deficit with which we were struggling. At the very least, in other words, this audit raises for us the question of just how much good faith the administration brought to the bargaining table back then.
The title of Comptroller Maragos’ press release implies that the $14 million in uncollected funds is partly responsible for the tuition increases of the last several years and for our current financial woes: “Maragos: $14M Went Uncollected at Nassau Community College Yet Tuition was Increased.” While we share Maragos’ incredulity, we are also aware that the question of whether those increases were necessary is more complex than his title makes it sound. Still, there is one part of the position he takes to which we need to respond. The press release quotes him as saying:
We urge the College Administration to implement all [our] recommendations including strengthening the management team, reducing administrative expense and [increasing] student faculty ratios [so that they are] in line with comparable Community Colleges in order to minimize future tuition increases.
The County Comptroller, in other words, would like the college to keep tuition as low as possible by increasing the number of students per faculty member—asking us, in other words, to do more with less (a refrain we’ve been hearing for more than a few years now)—while at the same time “strengthening the management team,” which is more likely than not to result in the hiring of additional administrators, not to mention the possibility of more “team-strengthening” raises, such as those that were handed out when Donald Astrab was president.
We find the short-sightedness of this logic breathtaking. It treats the revenue producing component of the college for an area where costs can and should be cut. Student do not come to Nassau Community College because of the strength of its management team, or because it has been able to hold administrative costs down. They come, bringing their tuition dollars with them, because of us, the faculty, because we refuse—no matter which part of the college we work in—to treat the education it is our job to help students claim as anything other than the citizen-nurturing process that it is, one that our democracy depends on. We already teach classes that are much larger than they should be. It is disheartening at best to learn that Nassau County would like to see those classes grow even larger.
Finally, Comptroller Maragos’ audit, which he titled a “Limited Financial Review of Nassau Community College” does not cover the last two academic years, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, and so we find ourselves wondering not only how much of that $14 million remains uncollected, but also how much, if any, the college continues to lose. We also wonder about the costs of outside contracts, the College’s financial relationship to the NCC Foundation and other financial matters not addressed by this Limited Financial Review of the College.
These questions are especially pertinent because we are in the middle of contract negotiations. We’ve already told you that the college is refusing to accept salary savings as having a positive impact on their projected budget, a position that—especially given what we have learned from reading this audit—certainly begs the question, Why not? We will update you further about negotiations in an upcoming blog post. For now, just be aware that the questions raised by this audit highlight just how challenging our negotiations have become.
There is a Board of Trustees meeting tomorrow, January 21st. We urge you to attend and, if this post has raised questions for you, to bring them. The Board needs to hear what you have to say.
When: Tuesday, January 21st at 8 PM
Where: Tower, 11th Floor
To Speak: Call Ann Brandi at 2-7205
We look forward to seeing you there!