Campus bookstore may be privatized

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Campus administrators are considering a plan to lease the campus bookstore to a private corporation in an attempt to generate revenue for the college, according to bookstore employees. Winners may be the college, which could generate tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. Losers, say critics of the idea, would be students who face steep increases in textbook costs and possibly bookstore employees who could lose their jobs.

Southwestern College administration and employees just agreed to a contentious five percent salary cut in an attempt to make up for a $5 million shortfall for fiscal year 2012-13. Another $2 million gap may have opened, according to campus administrators, forcing leadership to consider other cuts as well as possible sources of revenue.

Though many bookstore employees and students expressed sympathy for the college’s plight, none indicated support for the proposal. Bookstore Operations Manager Bill Denton said he opposed the plan, calling it a potential “can of worms.”

Bookstore profits have for years supported other cash-losing operations, such as the cafeteria. Denton said bookstore personnel were always happy to assist other campus programs that came up short, and said he was concerned that the college would sell off a “cash cow.”

“The campus bookstore was always able to help the college (with revenues from profits), which I’m very proud of,” he said.

California community colleges such as Chabot in Hayward and Orange Coast in Costa Mesa privatized their bookstores to corporations that paid generous leasing fees, but also charged students 20-40 percent more for textbooks and essential academic materials. Denton said the extra revenue for the college would come with a heavy cost to employees and students.

“These companies come in and say ‘We’ll take over, we’ll run your store and we guarantee you this amount of money every year and we get to keep the rest,’” he said. “The only way they can do that guarantee of revenue is by letting go of the staff.” Recently Chabot College went through a leasing with Follett Higher Education Group, with an agreement that was a minimum of $80,000 a year, but the company got rid of classified employees and student workers.

Former bookstore manager Patti Larkin is now SWC Director of Financial Aid. She recently set up a new plan to link financial aid to textbook purchases that would allow students to apply aid to purchases in a greatly expedited manner.

“This program would provide support to SWC students in achieving their academic goals,” said Larkin. “Many students cite not being able to afford or purchase textbooks as one of their greatest challenges in succeeding at SWC.”

She said she did not know what effect, if any, the leasing of the bookstore could have on the arrangement.

Students interviewed said they did not like the plan because they were worried it would increase textbook prices.

“It would be a bummer to have to pay extra for books that are already pretty pricey,” said Rudy Marquez, 20, a music major.

Chris Madrid, 20, a computer information systems major, agreed.

“Seems like an easy way to make more money off students,” he said.

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