Serving the High Plains

College's financial footing improves

A report last week by the chief financial officer and financial documents sent to the state indicate Mesalands Community College’s finances have improved significantly in recent months.

At one point early this year, the college was in imminent danger of not making its payroll. A series of cost-reduction moves, including progressive pay cuts for employees, and emergency aid from the state kept the Tucumcari institution afloat.

The board of trustees during its June 20 meeting approved budget adjustments and a revised 2023-2024 budget that reflects Mesalands using just $400,000 instead of the $1.25 million from state emergency funding earlier this year.

Blanca Pauliukevicius, the college’s CFO, said the less spending means Mesalands will have more carryover funds for the coming fiscal year. The budget-adjustment document states a remaining balance of $1.6 million will be used in fiscal-year 2024.

Pauliukevicius also said the college’s business office is continuing to reconcile finances with “large variances” from the two previous fiscal years, making the budget adjustments necessary.

Interim President Allen Moss said the college probably will continue to have budget-adjustment requests throughout the rest of the year.

“These numbers will continue to move as we reconcile,” Pauliukevicius said. “We will have more clarity as the year progresses.”

She also said her business office continues to work with the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor to finish audits on the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years, plus a special audit.

Board Chairman Richard Primrose said he appreciated the explanations of the budget adjustments by Moss and Pauliukevicius during his recent sit-down meetings, plus notations on the documents.

In other business:

— The board approved a five-year infrastructure capital improvement plan it will submit to the New Mexico Legislature for possible capital outlay funding.

At the top of the priority list is $1.5 million in critical infrastructure upgrades that chief of campus operations Mark Martinez said would include new climate-control systems, library windows, flooring and wayfinding and construction at the west entrance. Martinez proposed splitting up that request over two fiscal years.

Second on the priority list is a new roof and exterior repairs to the Dinosaur Museum for almost $60,000.

Martinez added a $1.49 million LED energy efficiency project as the third most-important item. He said he moved that up because LED costs have fallen in recent years, and such upgrades will provide almost immediate energy savings.

Other wish-list items are a new HVAC system at the Dinosaur Museum, an esports arena, art storage system, business center, maintenance building renovations, FDA inspector’s office, kitchen and dining facility, advanced technology addition, black-box theater and nursing and urgent care facility.

— The board approved an evaluation committee’s recommendation to hire Holcomb Law Office of Albuquerque as the college’s legal services. It scored a 91.6 out of 100 in its grading.

Martinez said another unnamed legal firm submitted a proposal but past the deadline.

Martinez said firm owner Dina Holcomb has extensive experience with higher-education institutions.

The board also approved a one-year contract with the Holcomb firm, with an option of three renewals.

— Jessica Gonzales, reporting on behalf of absent chief communications and strategic enrollment management officer Josh McVey, gave the spring 2023 enrollment report.

Gonzales said spring 2023 enrollment rose to 783 students from 600 the previous year, a 30% increase.

She said 232 students were on-campus, with 63 who graduated with certifications or degrees in May.

Gonzales said total students, which include those in corrections facilities, totaled 1,790, which was above pre-pandemic levels.

“It’s exciting news, and the state has been wanting us to increase” enrollment, Primrose said.

Mesalands lost about 500 students during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020-2021.

— The board approved a requisition of $56,000 in consulting fees to CliftonLarsonAllen of Minneapolis. The college is using one of its consultants in the business office to help reconcile financial reports.

— During the president’s report, Moss said he recently met with Mike Lee of the Fast TV Network, Steve Farmer of La Casa Verde and local contractor John Pacheco about possible partnerships with Mesalands.

Moss also said revisions have been made with the personnel handbook and faculty was reviewing it. He said he hoped to have a draft for the board by its July meeting.

Moss also said he hoped to have contracts with staff and administration ready this week. He said adjunct and faculty contracts were ready.

— Denise Hackett, Mesalands’ accreditation director, said the Higher Learning Commission would make an on-site advisory visit to Mesalands on Sept. 12-13. The visit is mandatory because the college was deemed to be in financial distress.

— According to a written report submitted by absent chief of staff Duane Brooks, he submitted his letter of resignation from the college in late May, effective June 30.

— In a routine matter, the board approved an Open Meetings Act resolution for the 2023-2024 fiscal year. Moss said the resolution reflects a change from meetings being convened via the Google Meets platform to the board of trustees chambers after pandemic restrictions were lifted.

— Joel Kiser, chief academic officer, reported that eight Mesalands phlebotomy students all passed their national certification, which means they can practice in other states.

— The board met in closed executive session for about 45 minutes to discuss personnel, litigation or real estate. No action was taken when open session resumed.

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