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Legislators OK ECC budget, want faculty jobs restored

Approval of a $111 million spending plan for next school year at Erie Community College came Thursday from the Erie County Legislature with a message: Find a way to restore some of the full-time faculty jobs that have been cut.

Six legislators pushed through a change to the college's 2012-13 budget that seeks to shift $600,000 into a contingency fund that could be used to bring back full-time teaching positions.

The change -- which won't affect a planned tuition increase for next school year -- was sought after dozens of college staff attended a public hearing Monday night with concerns over the number of positions that have been cut during the last five years.

"We listened, and we're making an adjustment," said Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, an Amherst Democrat who sought the budget change along with five members of the Legislature's minority coalition. "They don't send that budget over for us to rubber stamp it."

The 6-5 vote directed college administrators to take $600,000 set aside to install a swipe-card entry system in the college's buildings and to use it instead to pay for additional full-time teaching positions.

The budget amendment was passed before legislators unanimously approved the entire $111 million budget.

But exactly how much legal weight the budget amendment will carry wasn't clear on Thursday. Legislator Lynn Marinelli, a Town of Tonawanda Democrat who voted against the budget change, said the Legislature didn't have the power to make line-item changes to ECC's budget.

"This is an amendment that expresses wishes," Marinelli said. "It has no bearing on the board because they sought and got autonomy."

ECC President Jack Quinn said he would bring the message back to the college trustees.

"They want to be kept informed of what we're doing," Quinn said of the legislators. "They sent us back to check out the swipe-card system, which we're happy to do."

College officials have said they faced a number of budget challenges this year. As a result, the college has cut 44 vacant positions out of next year's budget, dipped into its fund balance and proposed a $300 tuition increase for next year to $3,900.

Prior to the Legislature's vote, the college had set aside $766,438 that it will use to restore some of the vacant positions cut in the 2012-13 budget based on "institutional priorities," said William D. Reuter, ECC chief administrative and financial officer.

The county kept its funding for the college flat at about $17 million -- a number that County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has projected will stay the same for the next four years.

College unions have raised concern about the number of full-time faculty and student-centered jobs that have been cut in recent years.

"Student retention can only be improved by having individuals in the classroom that are going to do the advisement, that are going to mentor the students, that are going to work to help them transfer to four-year institutions and also to help them gain employment," said Andrew D. Sako, president of ECC Faculty Federation.