POCAHONTAS, Ark. (KAIT) – Black River Technical College was enjoying a good year financially. The school was celebrating a near-million dollar turnaround in its budget last year.
“BRTC was able to put money back into the reserves for the first time in several years,” Dr. Martin Eggensperger, President at BRTC said. “This marked an important fiscal milestone for the college.”
Then, the effects of COVID-19 started to show earlier in the year.
Dr. Eggensperger says the college was concerned about the impact COVID would bring, anticipating a drop in enrollment and a decrease in state funding when COVID-19 started.
“We’ve just come out of our budgeting cycle and realized ‘oh, my gosh we’ve got to go back into it’ and figure out a way to handle a possible 25 percent decrease in enrollment and also handle a possible, additional cut to our state funding,” Dr. Eggensperger said. “We had a lot of moving parts that we needed to take care of.”
Despite an enrollment record for the Career and Technical Center, the college ultimately had a decrease of 6.2 percent in enrollment, with enrollment now just under 1,400 students.
The school then had to contemplate the next steps with its budget, including potential cuts.
Instead of furloughing or cutting employees, 10 percent of their faculty and staff, 16 people, were given contingency contracts.
These contracts allowed affected employees to stay in their positions until the end of the year rather than at the end of June.
Due to the enrollment dropping, eight of those 16 contracts will not be renewed after December 31. The other eight will be renewed.
“All that on top of COVID, it makes it a little tough,” Dr. Eggensperger said. “It hurts them, it hurts us, we love everyone here. But, they’ve handled it really well, they’ve worked through diligently.”
Despite some of the contracts not renewing, Dr. Eggensperger said the school is personally making phone calls and offering tools on-campus, including free classes such as resume and interview workshops.
He added that the school is finding other positions on-campus for some of the eight people.
The president says the school will do “whatever it takes” to make sure they are equipped to have another job lined up after their contract ends.
Dr. Eggensperger praised the students and his staff for their resiliency during this time. He says despite the setbacks, he is very optimistic about the future of BRTC.