Alabama community colleges to seek funding hike

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An electronics instructor at Northwest-Shoals Community College recently retired. One of his former students who works in private industry in Huntsville applied for the teaching position.

"He would have had to take a $50,000 pay cut," Northwest-Shoals President Humphrey Lee said.

The man didn't take the job and the school has "put a patch on" the position, getting other instructors to fill in until, hopefully, more money is available.

Struggles to recruit and keep instructors for high-tech programs were highlighted in last week's Alabama Community College System's board meeting. It's also part of the reason why the board is asking for a nearly 25 percent increase in funding in 2017.

"We are literally losing our faculty members at two or three a month because they can go to (private industry) at $30,000 or $40,000 a year more," said Mark Heinrich, chancellor of the 25-school system.

Klauber said finding welding instructors is a challenge.

"You're never going to be able to keep up with what some of the top-end welders make (in the private sector)," he said. "But we at least need to be competitive enough to make the argument that it's worth it to teach.

"At this point, I can't even make that argument."

Because salaries are based on a state-set scale, individual colleges don't have the flexibility to pay instructors more.

The Alabama Community College System board approved a request for $428.6 million in state funding for the next fiscal year. Lawmakers begin the 2016 Legislative session and budget-making process Feb. 2.

The board is requesting:

-$2 million to "provide supplements to instructors in high-wage, high-demand technical fields of study to aid in recruitment and retention."

-$1.5 million for increased health and retirement benefits costs.

-$35.8 million to initiate a 10 percent cost-of-living adjustment, including associated fringe benefits.

-$50 million for facility renovations and upgrades to instructional equipment.

Community college faculty and staff haven't received a cost-of-living raise since 2007, Heinrich said.

"We're just not very competitive anymore, and we desperately need a correction on that," he said.

Lee said in some cases, K-12 salaries are higher than what community colleges offer.

While officials do expect there to be more money available for education in the 2017 budget, it will be divided between community colleges, K-12 and four-year universities.

Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, who is switching from chairing the Senate Education Budget committee to the General Fund committee, called the 25 percent funding increase "optimistic," and said agencies often ask for more than they know they'll receive.

About possible cost-of-living raises, Pittman said lawmakers will find out during the session if those are possible for educators in the state.

"If there is one, I think the two-year schools should be a part of it," he said.

They weren't included in the most recent raise for K-12 teachers.

Lee said the colleges must lay out their needs, which also include repairs for buildings that are more than 50 years old.

"What's the saying, 'You have not because you ask not.' So, we're asking," Lee said.

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