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MAY 05 - MAY 12, 2015

Politicians Vague on ECC Crisis as Another Tuition Hike Nears

By Tony Farina

May 05, 2015

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz

Students at Erie Community College will face another $300 tuition increase in the coming year and the college will dip into its reserves again to keep the financially reeling school afloat in a new budget expected to be approved today (May 5) and sent later in the week to the county executive's office.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz, a man of few words about the failing college, had very little to say in response to a question from this reporter about what his plan was to deal with the growing ECC crisis. His media assistant, Peter Anderson, sent the following email response;

"The administration is awaiting ECC's 2015-16 budget submission later this week, and continues to work with the college on a number of issues, including future capital projects." What? Did I miss something or is that a response to a question about a college in crisis? You be the judge.

Poloncarz, who is gearing up for his re-election campaign, made no mention of money or where it is going to come from to keep the college going, and made no mention of the county's subsidy to the college which is 15.6 percent of the school's budget when the assistance should be at 26.7 percent. The county's subsidy has been pretty much flat for the last seven years under Democrat Poloncarz and Republican Chris Collins.

Republican County Legislator Kevin Hardwick is equally vague in discussing the school's financial crisis although he did organize a meeting last week that included representatives from the Poloncarz administration, college officials, and union representatives.

Hardwick said he recognizes the college has fiscal challenges but said the meeting was not about micromanaging the college's financial affairs but rather about looking to the future. "We can raise the county's share without raising taxes," he said.

"We need a plan like the UB 20/20 plan," said Hardwick." "We should have an ECC 20/25 plan for the long term."

Republican County Legislator Kevin Hardwick

But when pressed, Hardwick had few specifics regarding money and while he has scheduled another meeting soon, in this election year neither the Republicans nor the Democrats want to talk about how to raise the necessary funds to operate the college in a more efficient manner. The unsaid word, of course, is taxes, and neither party wants to talk about raising taxes in an election year.

So for now, and maybe for the foreseeable future, the students will be forced to carry more than 50 percent of the school budget when their contribution should be one-third with the rest coming from the state and the county.

Three of the four unions at the college are in arbitration but despite the unsettled contracts, sources say ECC President Jack Quinn will visit the legislature this Friday to talk about a new computer technology officials want to install which, according to sources, could cost anywhere from $4 million to $8 million. Quinn, who earns $192,500 for leading the college, enjoys little support at the school and is regarded by many long time faculty members as disengaged, spending more time with his outside board interests than on the business of running the college. But he has his supporters on the board and trustees rarely question his comings and goings despite the college's obvious problems.

Poloncarz did have plenty to say the last couple of days about his upcoming re-election bid, telling the Buffalo News he was not interested in the Conservative Party's endorsement because "it's not a party or a statewide platform that matches up with my beliefs."

That's the same Poloncarz who asked for the Conservative Party endorsement for his two comptroller races and for his county election campaign. That's three times, according to my numbers, but apparently he's changed his mind about his conservative beliefs.

Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo

For the record, Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo said he has talked to Poloncarz several times but never offered him the endorsement despite the clear suggestion from Poloncarz that he spurned the party's overtures. Lorigo and the Conservative Party committee are expected to endorse Republican Assemblyman Raymond Walter for county executive later this month.

But back to ECC for a moment and let's take a look at the political landscape. ECC is headed by Jack Quinn, a Republican, so he's not likely to get a hard time from the Republican-controlled county legislature about his extensive off-campus activities. But Republicans will also be cautious about attacking Poloncarz too strongly on the ECC issue because it comes down to money, and as I said before, neither party has any stomach for raising new revenue in an election year.

The bottom line for ECC may be that things will get worse before they get better, and if the tuition dips even more than the three percent anticipated, things could get really ugly. But families and students shouldn't expect their elected leaders to stick their political necks out in an election year to help what is perhaps the best local training ground for young people. About 95 percent of community college students stay in the area where they went to school. Given that number, you would think ECC would be a treasured local asset. That doesn't seem to be the case.





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Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina