Relieved college leaders said California voters gave the public education system a stay of execution when Proposition 30 was passed Nov. 6. With its passage, along with the failure of competing Proposition 38, California community colleges were spared another round of drastic cuts to their operational funding, having already lost $809 million since fiscal year 2008.
Southwestern College avoided an immediate trigger cut of $4.8 million, which would have driven the deficit for FY 2013 to a staggering $11.6 million.
An immediate effect of Proposition 30 passing is that the spring and summer 2013 semesters may receive additional classes. Originally the class schedule was contracted in anticipation of the failure of Proposition 30.
Administrators warn that SWC is not out of trouble just yet as the temporary 5 percent employee pay cut put in place for FY 2012-13 is set to expire in June. With its expiration, the deficit will grow to $6.8 million, an amount that will not be closed without more discussions among all groups on campus, according to Steven Crow, vice president of Business and Financial Affairs.
Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish said about a third of community college districts had enough money in reserves to survive Proposition 30 cuts for two years, a third would have enough reserve money to finish off this year and a third would not have survived this year had Proposition 30 not passed.
“I think we missed the tsunami but we didn’t miss the storm,” said Nish. “The tsunami was Prop. 30 not passing. So we missed that, thank the Lord, but we’ve got the storm to deal with. So we’ve got a problem, it’s a storm, and so now we’re going to get to work and we’re going to come up with strategies on how to solve the problem so that we can enter next year with a balanced budget.”
To address this problem the administration is looking for additional spending reductions.
“We have to reduce our ongoing expenses,” said Nish. “Eighty-seven percent of our ongoing expenses are salary and benefits. So that’s got to be a component of the solution.”
Voluntary across-the-board pay cuts were agreed upon by both of SWC’s major unions in May as a temporary measure to maintain. This agreement is what has so far prevented SWC from having mid-year lay offs.
Albert Roman, vice president of Human Resources, said the only way to reach a balanced budget was to find lasting solutions.
“In terms of the permanent solution we are looking for, beyond a negotiated solution, it could potentially involve a reduction of personnel,” he said. “Eighty-six to 87 percent of our budget is personnel and if you’re looking for a permanent reduction in your budget, absent of any additional apportionment you have to be able to condense those budgets. But the long-term solution is how can we reduce our budget so that we’re not deficit spending and that may involve looking at reducing our workforce.”
So far reducing operating and supply costs by 10 percent will save $1 million on an ongoing basis, which will be put towards the FY 2012-13 deficit, according to Crow.
Another idea called for a hard hiring freeze. Nish said the goal of the school was to not replace any positions that are vacated until July 1, if at all.
“Hiring freezes also have consequences, but we’ve been trying to exercise real prudence when hiring,” said Nish. “If we bring a position forward, it’s a position that we need.”
Roman said he was against the idea of a hard hiring freeze.
“To say that we’re just not going to hire, period, isn’t going to work,” said Roman. “I lived through that in my previous district and it really hurt us in terms of being able to be operational. It just did not work.”
Joel Levine, dean of the School of Language and Literature, said a parcel tax could help raise funds for the college. A parcel tax is a tax similar to a property tax, but does not depend on the value of the property. It charges by lot size or a set amount per piece of land.
Curriculum change is another method of managing expenditures. Aligning course offerings with student needs for transfer or certificates could save money.
“Change is coming and we have to be at the forefront,” said Randy Beach, Academic Senate President.
Beach said the four areas that should be heavily invested with Full-Time Equivalent Student (FTES) funding should be the California State University “golden four” areas of math, communications, writing and critical thinking. He also said that this does not necessarily mean other courses are not to be offered, but they should not take priority over the core four. To start this curriculum change process, he said, the way scheduling is determined has to change.
“We really need to start thinking about scheduling as a zero-based process,” said Beach. “We don’t just roll over schedules, we need to start fresh, we need to imagine if the tsunami hit and we had to rebuild, what would be the most important things we need.”