CHEYENNE – Laramie County Community College is expecting to receive $4.5 million or more from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money this fall.
President Joe Schaffer will have the temporary authority to spend it without first consulting the LCCC Board of Trustees, the board decided during a virtual meeting Wednesday.
“We’re going to be in a fairly fluid state for a variety of reasons,” Schaffer told the board. “Certainly, one of those reasons is the pandemic and what’s happening with that. Another reason is the budget situation in the state. The third reason is a result of the CARES Act funding that’s coming.
“We’ll have large amounts of funding coming in. We’ll have significant purchases that we’ll have to turn around quite quickly to be able to implement so we can open and function this fall.”
The college released its fall reopening plan this month, following guidance from health officials. The plan includes the need for personal protective equipment, virtual learning tools and other supplies to create a safe and effective learning environment. Some anticipated purchases, like a Wi-Fi contract, offer time-sensitive discounts.
Before the pandemic, which forced the unexpected closure of LCCC’s campus last spring, board members held special meetings to approve all major purchases more than $60,000. However, the policy can be amended in case of an emergency – like the COVID-19 pandemic. Schaffer presented the board with two options: Either maintain that policy and hold a special meeting every time the college makes a big purchase or temporarily allow him to expend funds beyond $60,000 “for the purposes of reopening the college.”
In the case of the second option, Schaffer would retroactively present the already approved expenditures to the board at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting. The revised policy, which the board approved after some debate, will remain in effect through the 2020 calendar year.
“This would essentially grant me temporary spending authority as a result of the pandemic,” Schaffer said. “It eliminates the need for a bunch of special board meetings like this one.”
Trustee Brenda Lyttle said she’s supportive of expanding Schaffer’s spending powers for now, but that “as elected board members, we also need to be accountable for the money that we appropriate and the decisions we make.” Lyttle asked if it was possible to create a hybrid of the two options and increase the spending cap to somewhere around $200,000.
“Is there a magic number? $60,000 isn’t a lot of money when it comes to making big purchases. Is there a magic number that would both give you flexibility and help keep us accountable?” she asked Schaffer.
“Without really thinking about that in greater depth, I don’t know that we could give you a specific number right now,” Schaffer said. “I don’t know that I’d be prepared to give you a specific magic number.”
The college must spend its CARES Act money by Dec. 31, and it comes with strict guidelines about what it can be used for.
“It’s not a free-for-all,” Tara Nethercott, a lawyer for LCCC, reminded the board.
Board Treasurer Don Erickson said he supported the policy change as Schaffer suggested.
“These are abnormal times,” Erickson said, reiterating that the change would only remain in effect through December, and praising Schaffer’s track record of responsibly spending the college’s money. Erickson’s only request before voting in favor of the policy was that Schaffer “give an early alert (of purchases), rather than learning about it right at the time we have a meeting.”
Shaffer told the board he would “try to keep (the board) informed” as the purchases happen, but that the policy requires him to outline those purchases at the subsequent monthly board meeting. “There’s never more than three or four weeks between when I would make a decision and when you would consider it.”
The board also went ahead and approved two big purchases that would fall under the policy change moving forward: $76,768.75 for curriculum software and $517,861.52 for supplies to implement the fall reopening plan.
The board will discuss any additional purchases that exceed the $60,000 threshold at its next regularly scheduled meeting in August.