LUMBERTON — The president of the Robeson County Black Caucus said on Monday that Robeson Community College is laying off employees based on race.
But the college president, Charles Chrestman, said that the termination of several long-term employees is the result of a lack of federal and state funding, in addition to program restructuring.
“We are deeply concerned about the number of employees being terminated, and most of them being black,” said Gilchrist, president of the Black Caucus. “… This shouldn’t happen at the community college. These employees do a great job. This is detrimental not only to the employees, but to the college and the county.”
On June 30, Gilchrist said, seven employees, six of whom are black, will be terminated from the Basic Skills program, which is supported by state and federal money.
Gilchrist also said there were 11 employees laid off in 2011 from the college’s maintenance department. Five of them were black, he said.
“If the community college cannot meet its financial obligation, it should not be done at the expense of blacks,” he told the commissioners. “That has been the pattern for the last three years.”
Chrestman said that the reduction in force is due to lack of program funding, with about $220,000 being recently cut. He said that some of the information presented to the commissioners on Monday by Gilchrist was not accurate.
As is their policy, the commissioners did not respond to comments made during the public comment period of Monday’s meeting.
In another RCC-related issue, Chrestman asked the commissioners to allocate to the college an additional $341,000 so the school can pay its bills for the months of May and June.
“Unfortunately, this is the third year that we have had to come to you and ask for more money for maintenance and operating costs so that we can keep RCC operating,” Chrestman told the board. “… The truth of the matter is we are out of money.”
According to Chrestman, as of May 1 the college had expended all of its county funding for 2011-12 operations and maintenance. Without approval of the $341,000 supplemental budget request, the college cannot pay this month and next month’s bills, he said.
“If we don’t get the funding, I will have to tell vendors that we just don’t have the money to pay them because the county didn’t give us enough money,” Chrestman told The Robesonian after the meeting. “But I don’t expect that to happen. We have a good relationship with the commissioners and they have always helped us in the past.”
The commissioners made few comments during Chrestman’s presentation, and did not say if they would approve the requested funds. Ricky Harris, the county’s interim manger, said that granting the additional funds is a decision the commissioners will make, not the county administration.
For each of the past three fiscal years, the county has allocated RCC $1.9 million for operations and maintenance. Money has also been allocated for roof repairs, with this fiscal year that amount totaling $225,000.
According to Harris, he is recommending that for the 2012-13 fiscal year RCC’s funding for operations and maintenance be increased to $2 million, with funding for capital projects being increased to $300,000.
Chrestman said that the additional expense this year has resulted from repairs to aging HVAC systems and higher energy costs.
“Energy costs have gone up about 11 percent, and we have had to make repairs to some 30-year-old HVAC systems,” he said.
In other business:
— The commissioners were asked to support the creation of a BUILD — Brothers United in Learning & Development — program in Lumberton. BUILD is a non-profit with a mission to assist youths by teaching them job skills, social skills, according to Nathaniel Stubbs, the organization’s executive director.
Stubbs asked the commissioners for seed money to secure the site of its future home at 150 Eden Ave. He said the organization’s target market is youths ages 8 to 18 who are performing below state academic standards and are at risk for dropping out of school.
— Leo Barnwell, program director for Faith Community Church’s “Junior Business Leaders of Robeson County,” gave commissioners an update on his program. According to Barnwell, the program is designed to help youths and young adults develop basic employment and business skills by offering training sessions targeting these skills.
— The commissioners approved the county’s Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan. The plan guides decision makers as they commit resources to reduce the effects of natural hazards.
— The commissioners recognized several county employees who have worked for the county 30 or more years.
Following Monday’s regular meeting, the commissioners held their first work session on the new fiscal budget that goes into effect July 1. No decisions were made, and a second work session is scheduled for May 31 at 7 p.m.
The budget introduced Monday by Harris totals $141.75 million. It calls for no tax increase, no new positions and no elimination of existing positions.
“While the development of this budget has presented itself as a genuine challenge, the staff and I have strived to develop sustainable and substantial changes that will maintain the quality of life for employees and citizens of this great county,” Harris told the board. “With the continued stagnant economy there is no single solution to all the budgetary problems, but with the continued support of all departments we can provide an outstanding level of service.”
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.