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TMCC tops list of higher ed institutions in confidential employee buyouts

By Bob Conrad

More than two dozen Truckee Meadows Community College employees have taken buyouts to the tune of nearly $1 million over the past two years. 

The buyouts put TMCC at the top of the list of Nevada System of Higher Education institutions for the amount of money spent on confidential employee buyouts and settlements. 

TMCC’s buyouts are more than double that of other NSHE institutions. 

“It sounds counterintuitive, but often presidents are faced with the tough decision of having to spend money in the short term regarding any reorganization or early retirement of certain employees in order to save money in the long term,” said NSHE Chief General Counsel Joe Reynolds during an NSHE Board of Regents meeting last year when the 2020 buyouts were discussed.

NSHE institutions have been hit with drastic budget cuts made worse by the pandemic. With limited state support, the state’s higher education institutions had to make about a 12% cut to their budgets.

“TMCC faced a challenging fiscal climate, including reductions to state budgets, declining enrollment which perpetuated a loss of revenue, while also planning to absorb a mandated 1% merit pay increase,” said TMCC spokesperson Kate Kirkpatrick.

TMCC spent more than $500,000 in 2020 for 13 positions and $403,000 in 2021 for 12 employees.

“At TMCC, budget reductions – including the voluntary buyout program – were recommended through a shared governance mechanism in the form of a Budget Reductions Task Force with representation from all over the College,” Kirkpatrick explained.

She said the buyouts in the long run will save the college money. 

“Per our process, the positions are planned to be vacant for a minimum of 2 years to yield significant budget savings for the College,” Kirkpatrick added. 

Faculty say there is more to the story

One TMCC employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the college used the opportunity to “clear the deck of people” TMCC President Karin Hilgersom did not like. 

Dr. Karin Hilgersom, TMCC President.
Dr. Karin Hilgersom, TMCC President.

“They are using [the buyouts] to get rid of people,” the employee said.

The college is still facing employee complaints against the administration, at least one lawsuit and ongoing low campus morale, as described by faculty. 

“Things are horrible,” another faculty member told This Is Reno. “It’s still a toxic nightmare.”

Jim New, TMCC’s former vice president and chief financial officer, said the college had more than $13 million in reserves during budget-cut discussions when the buyouts were proposed.

“On more than one occasion … President Hilgersom told … groups that she would never prioritize bricks and mortar projects over employees whenever possible, and was prepared to use the College’s contingency reserve fund to preserve positions,” he said. “At the time, TMCC held more than $13 million in reserves. 

“The TMCC policy is to carry around $8 million in reserves at minimum, as a safeguard against unforeseen circumstances, such as the pandemic-driven budget cuts,” he added. “Hilgersom had the authority to use these contingency funds to at least delay positions from being eliminated for a year or two until the long-term budget picture came into focus.”

New said it was announced at the TMCC faculty senate that there is now more than $15 million in reserves.

“It appears none of that funding was used to save positions,” he explained. “Some ‘voluntary’ buyouts occurred because employees were either aware, or at least suspected, that their positions were likely to be discontinued.”

The buyouts were voluntary and open to all eligible employees, Kirkpatrick said, however. She stressed that the buyout program was created with faculty input, but she did not respond to how many of the 2020 buyouts were from the voluntary buyout program. 

Reynolds, during last year’s NSHE meeting, said some of the 2020 buyouts were confidential employee settlements.

“It was intentionally kept, at least in this, at a high level,” he told the regents after Regent Jason Geddes questioned TMCC’s numbers. “I can share with the board there’s a tremendous amount of sensitivity because underlying each of these is a personnel matter.”

He said there was an interest by NSHE institutions to not shed light on personnel matters. The regents, however, last year wanted more information from TMCC, a point New echoed this week.

“When compared to the cuts made by every other institution in the Nevada System of Higher Education, I don’t believe the TMCC administration prioritizes saving positions at all,” New told This Is Reno. 

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