DOWAGIAC — Could the impasse between Southwestern Michigan College and its faculty union soon be over? SMC President David Mathews said Monday that all but one contract issue have been settled ahead of a negotiation session next week, and possible fact finding.
The college’s full-time faculty voted to unionize in early 2018 and the union and the college have been negotiating a new contract for several months. The college first asked for mediation services from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission in April.
“We continue to make significant process,” Mathews told SMC board members Monday at their monthly meeting. “There were 13 outstanding issues and there was agreement on all but salaries at our meeting last week.”
He said the two sides will meet again next Monday. “We started out far apart but I expect we can come with an agreement next week,” he said. “If we don’t, a fact finder is coming in later next week.”
He called it very encouraging that the college and the union have agreed on issues ranging from the school calendar to faculty loads. “We are within striking distance of getting an agreement,” he said. “I think I speak for everyone when I say that it will be good to have this done so we can devote all our energies to making SMC successful.”
The change in the school calendar in 2017 that lengthened the fall semester and shortened the winter break was the tipping point for many faculty members. This fall, the college went back to the shorter semester length that had been in place before 2017.
Monday’s board meeting also featured the presentation of the 2018-19 audit, as well as a report on the redesign of the college’s website. Plante Moran representatives gave the audit report and noted that the college ended the year with a small surplus on $24 million in expenditures. They gave the college a clean, unqualified opinion.
Vice President Mike O’Brien reported on the website redesign efforts. The college has budgeted $155,000 for first year expenses such as designing the new website, and expect it will cost $27,000 a year in recurring maintenance costs. The last major redesign came in 2014.
O’Brien said the marketing and information technology staffs began meeting about the redesign last December and sent out requests for proposals in April. He noted that 10 companies sent in proposals and the college decided to go with the Terminal 4 and Ellucian companies. The goal is to have the new website live by Aug. 1, 2020.
The www.swmich.edu website redesign will allow the college to better provide information to both taxpayers and prospective students, he said. “It’s the number one tool prospective students use to research the college,” he said. “Right now, we have an average of 36,000 web sessions per month.”
He said the goal is to have a website that is easier to search, more flexible, offers virtual campus tours and is less of a drain on the college’s own IT staff.
Also on Monday board members voted to continue paying for 80 percent of employee health care costs. Mathews noted that the state requires public bodies including colleges, schools and governments to either do the 80-20 cost sharing or a hard cap on health insurance costs.
He said choosing the 80-20 option will cost the college a little more than doing the hard cap this year, and that he expects the gap between the 80-20 and the hard cap to grow in coming years.