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Minnesota West prepares for shutdown

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West Community and Technical College sent layoff notices to some employees last week in preparation for a possible state government shutdown.

The threatened shutdown may have lasting repercussions for Minnesota West and other schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, as students look for educational options elsewhere.

"I'm afraid they'll go to school someplace else and never come back," said Richard Shrubb, president of Minnesota West. "They'll go to South Dakota or Iowa, private schools all over the state of Minnesota or the University of Minnesota."

The University of Minnesota is a federal land grant university and is not subject to a state-level shutdown like the other MnSCU schools.

Minnesota West is planning for three possible contingencies, Shrubb said.

The legislature could come to an agreement with the governor and then no shutdowns would occur. The college would be able to proceed as usual.

"The worst-case (scenario) is, they do not come up with an agreement and we have to lay everybody off and shut down the college," Shrubb said. The buildings would be emptied. No one would mow. No one would weed.

There is still a third option for Minnesota West, however -- in the event of a shutdown, the governor could allow the college to use its reserves, which would allow it to continue running for two and a half more months.

"It's a little upsetting to us because we have saved millions of dollars for a rainy-day crisis like the one we're in now," Shrubb said. "We feel like the whole MnSCU system, not just Minnesota West, is being used for political leverage."

Should the government shut down, everyone affected will create so much pressure the government and legislators will likely be forced to resolve the budget problems quickly, Shrubb explained, but if the governor starts exempting state entities such as MnSCU, there would be less pressure for a solution.

All 32 schools in the MnSCU system have reserves, and using them until the budget comes through would allow schools to avoid laying off employees.

"I just don't know why our legislators are talking about anything else but this shutdown," Shrubb said. "The strongest voices are citizens. Contact legislators and encourage them to get back to the middle... if our legislators could get back to the middle, we could resolve this issue quickly."

If a budget agreement is not made and permission is not given for schools to use their reserved funds, last week's layoff notices will be the first of many. Lead times are required for most layoffs, and the longest lead is for classified employees, who received their letters last week.

"The rest of us will get our letters in a couple of weeks," Shrubb said. "The leadway we have to provide to guys like me is not as lengthy. I could be sending myself a letter in a couple of weeks that says you're going to get laid off on July 1."

The situation is especially sticky for schools such as Minnesota West, where the summer term is already in progress, with 81 instructors teaching courses to 1,260 students. Classes have begun that will straddle the July 1 date, and could end up being canceled if the shutdown occurs.

Minnesota West would face a major challenge to enrollment given its proximity to the border with Iowa and South Dakota.

"Once people get into a program somewhere else, they're not going to come back here just because we've solved our problems," Shrubb said. "People have a lot of choices for higher education, so if our state legislators drop the ball and we have to close state institutions, we are not going to get those people back."