Employees of schools governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents may be forced to take unpaid time off and face reduced work hours and reduced pay, according to a new board policy approved this week.
Local workers at Cleveland State Community College and Chattanooga State Technical Community College are holding their collective breath, hoping not to lose part of their paychecks in already-tight economic times.
"We are all concerned about some of the proposals set forth, and we are concerned on a personal level about what it means for us," said Denice King, associate professor of biology at Cleveland State. "We all know how severe the budget shortfall is for the state."
The Board of Regents oversees the state's two-year colleges, 27 Tennessee Technology Centers and six state universities, including Tennessee Tech, the University of Memphis and East Tennessee State.
WHO COULD IT AFFECT?
* 640 employees - Chattanooga State
* 200 employees - Cleveland State
* 15,000 employees - Tennessee Board of Regents statewide
The board voted unanimously to give Chancellor Charles Manning authority to approve requests from college presidents for reduced compensation, decreased work hours and furloughs.
Officials with the Board of Regents said the policy change does not institute furloughs. The policy only makes these cost-cutting measures possible as two-year college presidents work to cut 13.5 percent of their budget and prepare for the possibility of cutting another 5 percent if the state's tax revenue continues to fall.
"None of these steps addresses longer-term budget issues, and they cannot become routine fixtures on any Board of Regent campus," said a statement from the Board of Regents.
Carl Hite, president of Cleveland State, said he supported and agreed with the board's decision. He said he would rather furlough employees or cut work hours than have to institute layoffs.
Dr. Hite said he doesn't know when or if furloughs would be necessary because the economy is in flux.
"We need to have flexibility in dealing with this budget crisis," he said. "These will be tools of last resort."
Chattanooga State does not plan on furloughs and pay cuts right now, and officials don't know if those types of decisions will be necessary next year after the budget cuts go into effect, said Eva Lewis, a spokeswoman for the college.
Enrollment at the school is strong and will help officials weather some of the budget cuts, she said.
"We hope we are not going to have to do any of these things right now," she said. "We can't say we won't because we won't know what the appropriations will be."