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Speakers encourage more investment in ECC facilities

One longtime Erie Community College faculty member said that morale at the college was at an all-time low. Another professor lamented the condition of science laboratories on campus that hadn’t been updated since his time as a student in the 1970s. And a high school counselor said ECC must build dormitories on or near its campuses to attract more students.

Just three people spoke at a public hearing Thursday on a proposed 2015-16 budget of $111 million for ECC that includes a $300 tuition increase. ECC’s board of trustees approved a full-time tuition rate of $4,595 for county residents in 2015-16, but the budget is subject to action by the Erie County Legislature.

None of the speakers was a current student at the college and the tuition hike was not the focus of the comments.

Instead, speakers encouraged greater investment in ECC, where revenues have suffered in recent years because of declining enrollment, flat financial aid from the county and falling state aid.

“Let’s address the white elephant in the room,” said biology instructor Jill Y. O’Malley. “You are, frankly, not funding us properly, and we can not do our jobs without that funding.”

O’Malley was among a few dozen members of the Faculty Federation, a bargaining unit representing about 950 academic staff at the college, who showed up at the hearing wearing red shirts. The faculty federation has been working without a new contract for more than five years, and negotiations sometimes have been contentious.

Many faculty members did not feel valued for the work they do, said O’Malley.

“Morale for our faculty is at an all-time low,” she said.

The county, for the first time in seven years, raised its contribution to ECC by $125,000 for 2015-16.

But its $17.5 million contribution is still far shy of the 27 percent share that state education law expects sponsors to provide to their community colleges.

Another speaker, Andrew D. Sako, president of the faculty federation, said that Erie County’s contribution percentage wise is among the lowest in the state, and he encouraged additional dollars be targeted toward “student-centered” initiatives at ECC.

John Mrozek, a counselor at Hamburg High School, opened the public hearing by praising ECC as an outstanding option for students coming out of high school looking to save money, gain confidence or develop a better academic grounding.

But Mrozek said some ECC buildings need repairs and that the connection between the college and high school counselors is not as strong as it once was.

Mrozek said ECC was also past due to build dormitories if it wants to attract more students.

“It’s something that has to be done. The sooner you do it, the better,” he said.