Peralta officials address budget woes

Community colleges will no longer be "open-access" institutions if state budget priorities are not changed.

That was the message given to Peralta faculty, staff and students at a packed budget presentation Sept. 9 in D-200. The Peralta Federation of Teachers (PFT), the union for Peralta faculty, sponsored the event.

Budget crisis (part 1) video courtesy of Peralta TV's P-Span

"There are a quarter million students who normally attend California Community Colleges that are not going to get in."
Chancellor Elihu Harris
"There are a quarter million students who normally attend California Community Colleges that are not going to get in," Chancellor Elihu Harris said. Some Peralta student services may see as much as 50 percent of their budgets cut this year. In the 2010 spring semester 400 class sections may be cut.

Harris told the group of primarily faculty members, "We're certainly doing what we can to cut expenses. We've cut the district budget six percent and are asking colleges to cut about two percent.

"Categoricals are going to be the hardest hit," Harris continued, referring to the possible 50 percent reduction in matriculation, EOPS, CalWORKS and DSPS program funding. "That's going to be disastrous."

Vice-Chancellor of Finance Tom Smith said that approximately $12 million of the Peralta's budget is being cut. Peralta's annual budget is over $100 million.

"We are trying to cut as far away from the classroom as possible," Smith said. Various Peralta employee groups have been asked to take up to 12 furlough days, or unpaid days off, to help meet the budget deficit. These include not only part-time and full-time faculty, but classified staff as well as administrators, confidential employees and unrepresented staff.

Smith discussed the challenge of meeting the fifty percent law - a budgetary restriction that requires half of all funding to be spent on the classroom. He stated that many colleges are cutting adjunct faculty, which is on the "wrong side of the fifty percent law," according to Smith. Five community college districts have informed the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office that they will not comply. Peralta intends to comply with the law.

Wise Allen, associate vice-chancellor of education services, gave an overview of Peralta's enrollment--the district's bread and butter.

"Enrollment is what generates the bulk of revenue in the Peralta District," Dr. Allen said. Enrollment is up 11 percent, according to Allen.

The largest source of Peralta's state funding is based on the district's number of Full-Time Equivalent Students (FTES). One full-time student taking 15 units is equal to one FTES. Peralta is currently serving approximately 20,300 FTES, yet are only being funding for 19,300 FTES. Peralta was informed of the reduced FTES funding after schedules had been built, according to Dr. Allen.

To increase revenue for the state, community college enrollment fees were increased 30 percent this summer to $26 per unit. For the first time, however, the revenue from fee increases are going to individual community college districts, and not the state's general fund. Still, Peralta is bracing for another round of mid-year cuts - a midyear budget reduction.

"We're the only system in the state where, mid-year, the state can go back and take money out of our budget - after adopting a budget," Allen said. For the past three years, community college budgets have been cut mid-year.

Vice-Chancellor Smith said that reserves would be used to pay for anticipated mid-year cuts, and previously told the Tower that reserves would be used to pay for Disabled Student Programs and Services, as it is federally mandated that those services be provided to students.

Smith added that community colleges are no longer funded as "open access" institutions.

Community college is "supposed to be open access for student to go to community college in California," Smith said, but "that policy of every student who wants to go to college can go to college, that's no longer funded."

Allen also discussed the disparity in higher education funding between community colleges and the UC and CSU systems. The UC system receives approximately $19,000 per FTES. The CSU system receives approximately $12,000 per student. While K-12 receives approximately $8,000 per student, community colleges receive just $4,600 per FTES.

Abel Guillen, vice-president of the Peralta Board of Trustees who was also present at the meeting, called the presentation a "sterilized version" of the budget cuts' impact on people.

"What we're missing here is the human impact of what these budget cuts are," Guillen said. He said the cuts to the categoricals will most affect "people who would otherwise not be able to come back to school." He suggested starting an "awareness campaign" to inform the public of the budget cuts' impacts to the community colleges.

Marty Hittleman, president of the California Federation of Teachers - the statewide faculty union - blamed Sacramento politicians for community college budget woes. He talked about the state's 2/3 majority requirement to pass a budget and inadequate funding for Proposition 98, a state proposition enacted to set a formula to guarantee a minimum amount of funding for K-12 and community colleges.

"If we don't change that, we're going to continue to have budget problems," Hittleman said.

A Merritt College student attending the forum expressed concern for future generations of students.

"What are they going to have if they continue to cut," she said, referring to current elementary and secondary school students. "The plan needs to change to work for the community."

Article by Reginald James, Editor.

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