The Southwestern Community College (SWCC) board of trustees held its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 14, 2023, at 5:30 p.m., in the board room of the Administration Center.
The board approved the minutes of the February board meeting. Following a few questions from board members related to college expenditures, the board approved the consent agenda.
The first action item on the agenda was to set a date for a public hearing related to the fiscal year 2024 budget. Bill Meck, SWCC interim chief financial officer, presented to the board regarding the proposed budget via Zoom.
Meck began by referring to a memo he provided to the board explaining the proposed certified budget. According to the memo, significant data points related to the proposed budget include the following:
- The total proposed levy rate has increased 6.2 percent, moving from $0.91729 to $0.97447.
- Total proposed spending authority is $33.513 million, compared to $32.985 million the prior year.
- Valuations increased 2.4 percent, moving from $3.789 billion to $3.879 billion.
Meck explained the increase in the levy rate is necessary largely due to increased insurance exposure. He said at this point SWCC does not know what the insurance increase will look like, but after conversations with Tyler Insurance, SWCC’s insurance agency, he is confident an increase is inevitable.
He pointed to other contributing factors, in addition to insurance increases, including equipment maintenance and information technology system maintenance and security.
Meck indicated SWCC currently has the lowest valuations of any other community college in the state. He also noted the increase in the plant fund spending authority was to accommodate for building projects on the horizon. In addition, Meck said due to the state modifying property valuations, the amount the college receives from the 20¼ levies has decreased.
“Unfortunately, there does become a point where your current levy does not meet your need,” Meck explained. “We’re at that point.”
Tony Cass of Creston, board president, then brought up the recent turnover in the chief financial officer position at the college. He spoke of Tia Samo leaving the position in the fall after more than six years in the position; Nichole Tucker leaving the position after a short stint (January-February) this spring; and mentioned the February 28 Creston News Advertiser article related to the turnover in the CFO position. Cass said he has had a number of individuals asking questions about the financial well-being of the college both at work and out in the community.
Cass then spoke directly to Meck and said, “Can you speak briefly to the stability of Southwestern?”
Meck responded that the college is in very good shape financially.
“Right now, we are in a very good financial situation,” said Meck. “We have the power to do some upgrades and changes. We have the resources there that we can start the utilization of those [funds].”
Cass responded that he hoped Meck’s comments could help dispel some of the rumors regarding the college’s financial well-being.
Following this lengthy board discussion, the board approved the motion to set the date for the public hearing for the FY2024 budget on April 11, 2023, at 5:30 p.m., during the regular board meeting.
Dr. Marjorie McGuire-Welch, SWCC president, then asked Meck to speak on the proposal for an increase in the FY2024 room and board rates. Meck explained college administration was recommending a $100 per term increase in the meal plan rates for FY2024, which includes a new lunch/midday all-you-can-eat option; as well as an additional $25 per term increase for Spartan Suites, Spartan Hall, and Spartan Court due to the rising costs of operation. The meal plan increase would be the only change for West Hall residents.
Britten noted there had not been an increase in room and board rates since FY2019.
The board approved the proposal for room and board rate increases.
The board was then informed of the resignation of long-time board member Jerry Smith of Osceola, as of June 1, 2023. According to Cass, Smith has been on the board for 26 years.
“You’ve been an extremely valuable board member for all these years,” Cass said to Smith.
Smith said not to consider his departure a resignation, but instead a retirement.
“It’s going to make me very sad,” stated Smith, “because it’s something I care about very much.”
Smith mentioned his exit will cause an opening on the Southwestern Community College Education Foundation board, as well as with the Community Colleges for Iowa. He said he has felt SWCC’s representation at the state level has been very important and his hope is that a board member will step up and participate at the state level.
Cass said the board will have 30 days to appoint a new board member in Smith’s district. He asked for two volunteers to serve with him on a subcommittee to fill Smith’s position on the board. Fred Shearer of Corning and Kevin Britten of Red Oak volunteered to assist on the committee with Cass.
Discussion then moved to the Proposed Director Redistricting Plan 1 from the state.
Cass said key changes of the proposed plan include Amy Mobley, board member of Mount Ayr, and Zach Gunsolley, board member of Diagonal, both residing in the same newly created district (District 6); as well as the creation of a completely new district (District 5) in the East Union, Murray, and Mormon Trail areas. Cass said this new district will cause need for a new board member in that area.
McGuire-Welch noted the college could re-number the districts for its own purposes, but the college cannot have a trustee-at-large. She indicated SWCC could request a new redistricting map, but colleges had been warned, “Each new map we would make might not be as good.”
During discussion of the monitoring process, Britten asked about the student hub project mentioned in the President’s Office updates in the Communication and Counsel Report and asked if the board could possibly get a tour of the suggested area for the hub.
McGuire-Welch said the project is in the “very early stages … just looking at surveys … and talking to architects about what is feasible and what are their recommendations.”
Britten then asked about the project budget.
McGuire-Welch indicated initial numbers from INVISION Architecture of Des Moines had come in extremely high and she asked them to cut the projection in half.
“When it came back I said no, no, we have to take it back from there,” McGuire-Welch stated.
Cass, who had asked for a report on the student hub during the February board meeting, then asked McGuire-Welch what college administration was thinking for the project budget. McGuire-Welch responded by saying $3.5 million.
Cass indicated there has not been a whole lot of information that has been presented to the board on the student hub project.
Cass continued by saying that normally the board would be guided through a building process. He then asked McGuire-Welch directly, “Can you give me more information on when this might be available to the board?”
McGuire-Welch said, “I can move quickly. I can get drawings from the architects.”
During the president’s report, McGuire-Welch offered the board spring commencement dates. The Nursing Commencement will be held on Friday, May 12, at 4 p.m., and the Career and Technical Education and Arts and Sciences Commencement will be held on Friday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. Both ceremonies will be held in the Student Center gymnasium.
Smith then gave a brief report on community college activities at the state level. He said the Community Colleges for Iowa is proposing a 4 percent increase. Smith stated they are trying to catch up for eight years with no increase.
Cass then spoke regarding a meeting of the sub-committee established to complete the annual CEO evaluation. The sub-committee—made up of Cass, Gunsolley, Shearer, and Smith—had been established at the February board meeting. Cass said the group had met, discussed, and decided to continue with the process of an online board survey, as has been done in the past. Cass directed Carmalee Woods, the board secretary, to send out the survey link to board members. Cass said the CEO evaluation will be conducted at the April board meeting.
The meeting then adjourned.