Bill addressing adjunct prof pay proves too costly
DENVER — Adjunct teachers in the state’s community colleges aren’t being paid what they should be, a state lawmaker said Thursday.
But because his bill to address the issue would have cost the state millions of dollars, the House Appropriations Committee rejected it.
Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, told the committee that the 13-school Colorado Community College System, which includes Northwestern Community College in Craig, has more than $100 million in reserves, but is paying about two-thirds of its instructors scandalous wages.
The system, which operates community colleges from Trinidad to Craig, employs more than 1,100 full-time instructors, whose annual salaries average about $48,000.
But at $18,000 a year, the bulk of the system’s instructors — nearly 3,000 of them — make about 2 1/2 times less than that average.
“We have adjunct faculty members teaching classes when they’re ill, even on broken legs,” Fischer said. “They get docked their pay if they don’t show up for class. They’re considered contract workers. That’s why this bill is here. The disparities are just too great to ignore.”
Though much of the debate centered on the system, it was aimed at all community colleges in the state. As a result, it also would have impacted Western Colorado Community College and Colorado Mountain College.
In an attempt to rescue the bill because of a $55 million fiscal cost (an earlier version of the bill carried an $86 million fiscal note), Fischer tried to amend it to force the college system to dip into its reserves to increase pay and offer benefits for all adjunct instructors.
That effort failed.
While Fischer earned sympathy from Democratic and Republican members of the committee, most agreed that it was too expensive a proposition, and that it was the wrong way to address the issue.
It’s an issue the college system should address itself, something system president Nancy McCallin is planning to do, said Rep. Jenise May, R-Aurora.
May said the system would have had to increase tuition by as much as 24 percent to cover the higher costs, and still would be forced to lay off some of the part-time teachers to accommodate the higher pay.
“I’m having a very difficult time with the way this is being done (in the bill) and it’s not that I’m not supportive, I just also don’t want to see you end up with 900 (instructors) being laid off because of a $55 million cost,” May said. “Even if we did the reserve, it’s a short-term pot of money for an ongoing cost.”
Other legislators agreed, but added that the issue was best addressed by the system itself rather than the Legislature mandating how it should compensate its workers.
The measure ultimately died on a 13-1 vote.