Southeast Arkansas College President Stephen Hilterbran (left) and Board of Trustees Chairman Paul Bennett preside over Wednesday’s board meeting on the SEARK campus. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Southeast Arkansas College will play a major role in a training initiative for jobs in the manufacturing industry, the college’s board of trustees was told during its regular bimonthly meeting Wednesday.
Bryan Barnhouse, director of economic development for the Economic Alliance for Jefferson County, briefed the board on the details of a plan to integrate SEARK into the Manufacturing Career Pathways pilot program that will train students to fill the jobs most in demand by local industry.
Barnhouse explained that the Southeast Arkansas Growth Initiative, a program created by the Alliance, was the entity that spearheaded the effort.
“SGI leaders and partners determined that it would be a good idea to concentrate our efforts on addressing the workforce needs of the manufacturing industry sector because it is one of the region’s most critical industries,” Barnhouse said. “Per capita employment in the manufacturing sector in Jefferson County is higher than the national average.”
Barnhouse said that within the manufacturing sector the two most critical employment areas are industrial maintenance and industrial operations.
SGI recently hosted a meeting at SEARK that included SEARK President Stephen Hilterbran, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Interim Chancellor Calvin Johnson, Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Linda Watson and representatives of local companies.
“The manufacturers had the opportunity to speak with educators about what their hiring priorities are and the type of training that will be required to prepare students for these jobs,” Barnhouse said.
Michael Gunther, SEARK’s vice president of student affairs, will serve as the Pathways facilitator at the college as it takes over the role of coordinating the program from Barnes and SGI.
“We will always be available to provide whatever assistance is needed but it is time to hand the reins of the program over to SEARK,” Barnhouse said.
In other business Hilterbran told the board that several bills in the Arkansas State Legislature have the potential to cause severe financial pain for higher education in the state.
“There are several bills that have been introduced in the legislature that would take money out of the general revenue fund and when that happens it hurts higher education,” Hilterbran said. “There is a highway bill that if passed will take money out of general revenue and move it to the highway department. If general revenue is cut by $100 million that would result in a cut in SEARK funding of $165,000. If it is cut by $300 million you are looking at a cut of $750,000 to SEARK’s budget, which would mean layoffs.
“Reducing the general revenue fund too much will be devastating to higher education,” Hilterbran said. “Government and higher education will bear 81 percent of cuts to general revenue. The highway bill is up for a vote tomorrow and I will be in Little Rock for it.”
Board chairman Paul Bennett added his thoughts on the topic.
“I was in the meeting with Dr. Hilterbran where these bills were discussed,” Bennett said. “We have a different composition in the Legislature now and they are intent on reducing the size of government. The highway bill that Dr. Hilterbran talked about would take $459 million out of general revenue and put it in the highway department within the next 10 years. We have our local representatives in the right place as far as these bills go.”
Academic program changes
The board voted to delete three options from the Industrial & Mechanical Technology Program — Machine Tool, Manufacturing Technology and Mechanical Equipment Maintenance.
“There are currently four options and three of them are not translating into jobs for students,” said Linda Lewis, SEARK’s vice president for academic affairs. “We will keep the industrial maintenance option because it is more broad-based and meets employer needs. There are eight students in the options that we are deleting and they will be allowed to finish their programs.”
The board voted to remove the Health Sciences program from inactive status.
“We have found that students like that option even though financial aid is not available for it because it comes about halfway through their degree programs and earning the certificate gives them something tangible to show and to put on their resume,” Lewis said.
Hilterbran provided an update on the schedule for constructing a new administration building, which is the second part of a project that began with the construction of the computer services building in 2012.
“The bid opening for Phase II will take place tomorrow from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.,” Hilterbran said. “We will have 18 bidders and we think there will be some good bids. Right now the time frame for construction is that it will start in May or early June and take 12 months to complete.”
The board approved personnel actions including the hiring of Freda Mills as a shipping and receiving clerk effective Jan. 22 and Terri Graydon as an institutional services assistant effective Feb. 18.
The board approved the resignations of Kristine Lovett as a fiscal support technician effective Jan. 15; Acquanetta Burns as a cashier in fiscal affairs effective Feb. 8; James Hicks as a maintenance assistant II effective March 4; and Linda Lewis as vice president for academic affairs effective May 31.
Debbie Wallace, SEARK’s vice president for fiscal affairs, presented the financial report for the seven months ending Jan. 31, with year-to-date revenues of $6,828,777 with a remaining budget of $5,106,650; and year-to-date expenditures of $5,723,599 with a remaining budget of $6,211,828.
Wallace reported total cash and cash equivalents of $6,942,803 as of Jan. 31.
Wallace reported the total fiscal year 2013 restricted funds budget of $1,568,420 with year-to-date expenses of $868,519, a budget balance of $699,901 and percent of budget spent so far of 55.38 percent.