Local campuses face $27 million hit without passage of November initiative
May 20, 2012 (San Diego) -- The heads of the region’s six community college districts issued a tsunami warning of sorts Wednesday, saying a new wave of funding cuts will further cripple the colleges if voters reject the governor’s November tax initiative.
At a news conference at San Diego City College, a coalition of community college district chiefs, trustees and students joined in calling for public support of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal for temporary tax increases, saying its loss in the November election would trigger $300 million in cuts to the state’s community colleges on top of the $502 million loss that the system has already taken for the current academic year.
“It’s clearer than ever that the voter approval of the governor’s tax initiative is the only way to avoid further devastating and dismantling cuts to California community colleges,” said Francisco C. Rodriguez, superintendent/president of MiraCosta College and current president of the San Diego Imperial Counties Community College Association.
Wednesday’s gathering came two days after the governor’s unveiling of his revised $91 billion 2012-13 budget, which relies on voter approval of the November initiative that calls for a temporary hike in the sales tax and income taxes on those making more than $250,000 per year.
Passage of the tax initiative, which currently polls at a narrow 54 percent for approval, would mean $313 million in new funding to community colleges statewide, while its failure will mean some $300 million in midyear cuts. Locally, that translates to a nearly $27 million loss to the five community college districts in San Diego and Imperial counties operated by state apportionment dollars.
“Clearly, this would be a devastating hit to our colleges,” Rodriguez said. “And now is the time, more than ever, that California needs graduates and an educated workforce. “
With budget cuts exceeding $800 million since 2008 to California’s community college system, the two-year campuses have had to ration the education they provide by drastically cutting back course offerings, delaying the educational progress of the 2.6 million students seeking to transfer to universities or to obtain job skills.
“If the governor’s tax initiative doesn’t pass, it means a $5.5 million cut in January at my place,” said Robert Deegan, superintendent/president of Palomar College. “That would mean we have to cut hundreds of classes.”
At the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, Chancellor Cindy L. Miles said the funding loss would be $4.9 million, which translates to another 450 course section cuts, more hiring delays and deeper operational cuts for 2012-13.
Constance Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District and SDICCCA vice president, said the failure of the tax initiative would mean tens of thousands of students locally would be turned away because of class shortages. Campuses have had to reduce course offerings by roughly 15 percent due to the budget slashes and community college enrollment throughout California has plummeted by 300,000 since the 2009-10 academic year.
“We are here to make sure voters and the public understand the stakes,” Carroll said. “We can decide to support community colleges and their mission of service or we can decide to make them smaller and in so doing, make the workforce smaller and render the economic health of the San Diego region less than what it should be.”
The region’s community colleges serve nearly 300,000 students and contribute $6.6 billion annually to the state economy, studies show.
Rich Grosch, president of the San Diego Community College Board of Trustees, said the November election gives voters the opportunity to show their support for education.
“For the past three years, community college budgets, programs and classes have been decimated because of the failure of legislators in Sacramento to correct the structural deficit in the state and provide essential funding for community colleges and other segments of education,” he said. “We are at the point at which voters need to make the decision. Do we want to restore California to its former first place economically and educationally by adopting a balanced budget plan as proposed by Gov. Brown or do we want to continue a path that reduces opportunities for its citizens by keeping California in last place?”
Cody Dean, a Palomar College student who is transferring to UC Berkeley in the fall, said his academic success wouldn’t have been possible without community college.
“When you make cuts to community colleges, you are making cuts to dreams and innovations,” he said.
Claudia Duran, Southwestern College Governing Board student trustee and student body president, described the all-too-common scene of students sitting on the floor at the start of each semester hoping to get into an overcrowded class.
“Students cry when they can’t get into a class,” she said. “In high school, I never saw such a hunger for education that I have seen at community college. People are passionate. They want to be educated.”
Samantha Elliot, Grossmont College student, said she accepts rising student fees as a consequence of reduced funding, but the availability of classes shouldn’t be compromised.
“I don’t want a free education or a cheap education – I want an affordable education,” she said. “You can’t give a free education to everyone, but you have to make education available. If you don’t make available, there won’t be much of a future for this state.”
About SDICCCA, organizers of the news conference: For almost 40 years, the six community college districts of San Diego and Imperial counties have worked together as a regional organization promote planning, collaboration, and economic development for the entire region. The CEOs of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association meet monthly and include in their meetings representatives of San Diego State University; the University of California, San Diego; and California State University, San Marcos. The organization also sponsors a monthly meeting of the presidents of the Boards of Trustees, as well as committees that focus on student transfer, workforce development, regional grant applications, and other projects.