$12 Million Reasons to Worry




Prologue: Bad budget news out of Sacramento is forcing tough decisions at Southwestern College.

SWC will likely have $12 million less in 2011-12 than this year.

Tuition will jump from $26 a unit to at least $36, but hold on tight. Unit costs could go as high as $60 in the foreseeable future.

Class sections will be cut, though not drastically. In the words of the college superintendent, students with priority registration should not  “fool around” and miss their window. Late enrollers may not get any classes.

Crashing classes will be more difficult than ever in the fall.

Competition for financial aid is stiffer and processing is taking longer. Students should apply immediately.

Bob Temple, SWC’s straight-shooting interim vice president for business and fiscal affairs, has a warning for the college community.

“If I were you folks I’d be as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” he said.

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared the drought over, but soggy Sacramento’s coffers are bone dry. Even after a little unexpected good news recently, California still faces a $15 billion budget deficit and community colleges are scheduled for a $1.5 billion cut. Student fees are climbing and state allowances are descending. A rough patch awaits Southwestern College.

Administrators and faculty are working on a contingency for a worst-case scenario—a three-year plan slicing $12 million in fiscal year 2011-12 and $11 million the next two years. Temple said the Shared Consultation Council (SCC) Budget Committee is working on an all-cuts scenario that would trim $11 million right away.

Interim Superintendent Denise Whittaker said the situation with the economy is very serious and the state may force SWC to offer fewer classes. State allocations are determined by Full-Time Equivalent Students (FTES). One FTES equals 30 credits over two semesters. Head count or overall units are not factors.

“You can expect that the state is going to reduce how much FTES we get,” said Whittaker. “And we get paid a little more than $4,600 per FTES.”

SWC’s FTES base cap is currently 15,529. Whittaker said FTES figures are used to calculate how many courses you can offer. FTES levels are assigned to each of SWC’s five academic divisions (called “schools”) to be further divided by deans and department chairs to determine which specific classes are offered. In years past a popular class that was full would guarantee its continuance. Not anymore said Professor of Communication Linda Hensley. Some popular classes may be cut in favor of core transfer classes.

Whittaker said it is a tough balancing act and difficult decisions loom. Worse, the state could cut the FTES base even more in the coming months.

“The state regulates how many courses we can offer and how many students we can serve,” she said. “So we anticipate that part of the budget reduction is (the state saying) that we cannot afford to give colleges your base. We are preparing.”

Temple said the enrollment planning managing group is planning a five percent reduction and has a contingency for spring if it goes to seven percent. He said it could go as high as 15 percent. Protecting jobs, classes and student support services wherever possible are the college’s top three priorities. Temple said student service programs at SWC are important behind-the-scenes factor in student success.

“Your metrics for performance, persistence, completion and success, in my opinion, given the demographics of your district, is due largely to the student support services you have at this college,” said Temple. “We all agree we want to keep the level of support in student services where it is at because that is part of your culture.”

Whittaker said no college educator wants to see class cuts, but the district will reduce courses next fall.

“This means to our students that there will not be as many classes to take,” said Whittaker. “For our current students there will be little impact because they are in the registration queue and they already have priority.”

She made it clear, however, that returning students are on the clock and need to register now.

“If students fool around and miss their priority registration, classes are going to max out and they won’t be there,” she said. “The need is going to be greater than what we offer.”

Southwestern’s decision to fund summer classes has raised eyebrows around the county. SWC is the only San Diego County community college to offer summer classes this year and students are already flocking in from other districts as well as SDSU and UCSD.

“If you fund summer, you are taking FTES away from fall and spring,” said Whittaker. “Most students want to go to school in fall and spring, so that means a minimal summer.”

Whittaker advised students to register on time and complete financial aid requirements as soon as possible.

“Apply for financial aid early,” said Whittaker. “They say March 1, but really if you can get it in now FASFA turnaround time in non-peak periods is still three weeks most of the time. If you wait until August, you are at the peak. Even if you don’t know what you are going to do in the fall, get your stuff in the queue and fill out your FASFA form.”

Revenues for 2011-12 are projected at $69 million and expenditures more than $83 million. Plans to close the budget gap next year include $4 million from reserves, $1 million in Supplemental Early Retirement (SERP), $1 million in workload reduction, $200,000 in travel, $575,000 in Post Retirement obligation (GASB) and $125,000 in instructional supplies, hourly employment and equipment.

“If we have not reached our goals or we have not come up with a budget the board is comfortable with the idea that we might have to take other measures in the next spring and summer sessions,” said Temple. “If we do not have something you are comfortable, come March 15 we are going to have to be handing out layoff notices.”

Temple said it is a very important for administrators, faculty and employees to work together during times of crisis.

“We see wonderful things coming out of faculty and student performance whether it is great leadership or bad leadership,” said Temple. “Leaders move on, but institutions go on if the institution is the one driving those values. That is what is taking place here today, in a big way.”

Temple said 83 percent of SWC’s budget is salary and benefits. He said if you don’t want to give up jobs, classes or student support services, one of the few things left is compensation.

“We are going to all of the constituents and asking what can you do within these groups,” he said. “Salary reduction, step/column freezes, student workers, reassigned time, hourly and overtime, and the use of Prop R funds where legal and appropriate are some of the items on the negotiating table as possible solutions.”

An across-the-board salary reduction at 2.5 percent would save $1.8 million and a five percent $3.5 million, Temple said.

Professor Andy MacNeill, budget committee co-chair, said the committee has been meeting every Friday since January to reinvent the SWC budget process.

“Before we were letting the budget drive everything at this college,” said MacNeill. “What we have now is the priorities driving the budget. We are working on a three-year plan, looking towards the future.”

State level politics is fierce right now, MacNeill said. SWC Communications Officer Chris Bender attended two meetings in Sacramento with local elected officials and their staffs along with representatives of other colleges in the state. Bender said his office is doing about 50 percent government relations work now compared to just10 percent last year, he said.

“It is one thing to talk to these folks on the phone, but it is another to speak with them in person,” said Bender. “You can learn as much as from what people are not saying and are not doing. The trip was good for me because it became very clear what is not going to happen.”

What Bender predicted will not happen is meaningful cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on revenue generation and a ballot measure to extend a short-term tax currently in effort.

Bender said all colleges need more support from the state. In legislative meetings with both Republicans and Democrats, he said it was apparent that higher education will be expected to take a hit in 2011-12.

“I think they believe higher education systems in general got a pass on the first round of budget cuts,” he said. “The general feeling from both parties is the budget was balanced on the back of social services and poor people. It is going to be very difficult to ask those people to take substantial cuts again in the second round.”

Community colleges are a viable solution to the current economic problems, putting people back into the work force, Bender said. But legislators are wary of a tax extension. Republicans don’t have the appetite for it and the Democrats do not have the votes.

“There is a certain amount of logjam up there and they just don’t know what to do about it,” said Bender. “There needs to be a new mechanism and I don’t think they have come up with what that new mechanism is. We need to push legislation through local representatives that are friendly to our cause. It may or may not pass, but the point is we would begin driving the conversation instead of responding to the conversation.”

He said many creative ideas are out there and to survive the economic cycle colleges need to bring ideas to the table.

“Take the offense and start thinking of ways to generate revenue for the institution and the system as much as possible,” he said.


[media-credit name=”Tom Lord/Staff” align=”aligncenter” width=”300″][/media-credit]


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