After Klamath Community College announced in late August that it would be suspending operations at the Lake County Innovation and Learning Center (ILC) for the foreseeable future, the Lake County Commissioners discussed the matter during their Tuesday, Sept. 1 meeting.
Lake County has an out-of-district contract with KCC for the College to provide services through the ILC, for which the County pays $25,000 per year.
The Commissioners expressed their frustration at not having had any discussion with KCC about the possible suspension of services before receiving a letter announcing the decision.
Emma Cornell, chair of the Lake County College Advisory Board, said the ILC is an important organization for the County to promote higher education. The Center has also made a positive difference in the rate of student success after high school, she noted. Cornell emphasized that Lake County students need support to go to college and said she felt worried about having no on-site coordinator for the ILC.
It also cost a lot of grant money and effort to bring all the equipment and resources to the ILC, Cornell said.
Commissioner Brad Winters said that KCC had been a “great partner” with Lake County in the past, so the lack of proper communication about the ILC closure was unusual.
Lake County School District #7 Supt. Michael Carter was present virtually for the Commissioners meeting, and said that KCC was also planning to remove all the computer equipment from the ILC, something that also concerned the Commissioners and Cornell.
The Commissioners decided to try to schedule a meeting with KCC President, Dr. Roberto Gutierrez to discuss the future of the ILC. That meeting took place Thursday, Sept. 3, with Cornell, Gutierrez and KCC Exec. Dir. of External Communications Chip Massie appear virtually.
Winters started the discussion by telling Gutierrez and Massie that the Commissioners were “quite surprised” when they received the letter notifying them of KCC suspending services at the ILC.
Later in the meeting, Gutierrez said he thought KCC had had a meeting with the Commissioners prior to sending out the letter, but the Commissioners were confident that no such meeting had taken place.
Gutierrez said that services at the ILC were one of many cuts KCC had to make after being told by the State that it needed to cut its budget by $1.7 million. He said KCC had also laid off staff, faculty, administrators and cut one of its programs to meet the budget constraints.
“We hope this is just short term,” Gutierrez said of the suspension of ILC operations. He added that he hoped in February, at the beginning of the next biennium, there would be more room in the budget. He stressed, however, that he could not make any promises about whether KCC services would return to Lake County.
KCC did decide that it would leave the equipment and furniture at the ILC that it was previously planning to take. Gutierrez said those things would be left for approximately six months, with the possibility that the ILC could reopen.
“We are continuing to serve Lake County with other modalities,” Gutierrez said, making the case that there are still some KCC services available to Lake County students, some of whom are taking advantage of distance learning through KCC.
Winters said if KCC wants to keep its contract with Lake County but cannot provide the services detailed in the contract, then the contract would need to be amended somehow. Gutierrez said KCC would be open to amending or prorating the contract.
Commissioner James Williams said he does not want to see services to Lake County of any kind be suspended. He said he would like to know what the Board of Commissioners can do to help with KCC’s budgetary shortfall so that Lake County continues to receive the services set forth in its contract.
Gutierrez said that in the last statement he looked at, KCC was paying approximately $200,000 to $250,000 to subsidize services in Lake County. Massie added that the figure may actually be closer to $300,000. With the budget cut of $1.7 million, Gutierrez said, KCC can no longer afford that amount.
The Commissioners decided to bring the whole of the Lake County College Advisory Board into the conversation. The Advisory Board will meet and then make a recommendation to the Commissioners as to how to amend KCC’s contract with Lake County.
“I don’t envy you,” Winters told Gutierrez and Massie, noting that reducing services to fill a $1.7 million budget shortage is a difficult task. “Thank you for your hard work,” Winters added.