Protesters attend Wright State meeting

Wright State officials react to sale of two buildings, staff protest at trustees meeting

The effects of Wright State University’s budget crisis loomed over Friday’s board meeting as trustees voted to sell two chunks of property and faculty union members protested financial issues and an ongoing contract dispute.

Wright State’s board agreed to sell the school’s vacant Kettering Center located at 140 E. Monument Ave. in downtown Dayton for $1 million to KC Dayton Partners, LLC. The board also voted to sell its property at 3171 Research Park Boulevard in Dayton to Industrial Commercial Properties of Solon, Ohio for $1.3 million.

The work being done at Research Park will be moved on campus, and the Kettering Center would have taken a “significant amount of resources to make occupiable again,” said WSU chief business officer Walt Branson.

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Wright State is selling its downtown Dayton property as other area universities are looking to get more involved there. Both the University of Dayton and Sinclair Community College — which has a main campus downtown — are both hoping to be involved in a renovated Dayton Arcade space.

“It seemed like a good opportunity and as downtown is developing we feel pretty certain that there’ll be future opportunities,” Branson said. “We think our downtown presence is incredibly important. We weren’t able to really make use of (the Kettering Center), and with other opportunities that we’re fairly certain will come along, we’ll work on the downtown presence that way.”

Wright State officials have long considered either selling or leasing the downtown Kettering Center, which Montgomery County property records show is valued around $1.7 million. The school has owned the building for several decades, but it has been vacant for about 11 years.

The sales come as Wright State leaders are trying to navigate the school out of a budget crisis.

Wright State trustees slashed more than $30 million from the university’s fiscal year 2018 budget in June 2017 and then cut another $23 million to create a surplus of about $10 million.

This June, trustees approved a FY 2019 budget that projects around a $10million decline in revenue. The university announced earlier this week that it expects to avoid state fiscal watch, although an official announcement from the Ohio Department of Higher Education won’t come until 2019.

Though the sales might be a financial boost for Wright State, administrators and trustees continued taking heat from the faculty union during Friday’s meeting. Dozens of union members showed up to the meeting to protest with signs that proclaimed “We Are Fighting For Wright.”

Wright State’s administration and chapter of the American Association of University Professors have been locked in contract negotiations for more than a year. Negotiations first stalled in March 2017 when Wright State’s then-president David Hopkins abruptly resigned, Martin Kich, AAUP-WSU president, has said.

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The administration has offered faculty a three-year contract with no raises and reduced health benefits, Kich has said. A final fact-finder’s report on negotiations is due out at the end of October, and the faculty union has threatened to strike if a deal is not reached.

Faculty members who spoke at the meeting criticized the administration’s negotiating tactics and the board for Wright state’s financial problems.

“It’s ok to admit that you don’t know anything about higher education,” said Noleen McIlvenna a WSU history professor and contract administration officer for the AAUP-WSU.

McIlvenna said the board has overseen the “destruction” of Wright State’s reserve fund and called the last several years a “spending catastrophe.” WSU’s total reserves plummeted from $162 million in 2012 to a projected $31 million in 2017, which amounts to a $131 million decline over five years, according to the school’s budget.

Board chairman Doug Fecher pushed back on some of the rhetoric used by faculty members. Despite disagreements, Fecher said the board wants to “find a way forward” in contract negotiations and said he knows both the administration and faculty want to avoid a strike.

“We didn’t agree on that way forward, but we have worked to get there,” Fecher said. “We stand willing and ready to continue to work to find that way forward to get there and you know that’s true.”

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