There is no escaping the money troubles in Sacramento. Just ask the folks calling the shots at Santa Barbara City College, an institution that, by all accounts, is about as fiscally fortified as they come. With Governor Brown’s June election tax package—which aimed to soften an imminent state budget bloodbath by extending existing vehicles license, income, and sales taxes—essentially left for dead by an unwilling Republican party, City College, like all other public education outfits in the state, is starring down the barrel of some very bad news. According to President Andreea Serban, the school is looking at a minimum of $6.8 million in ongoing annual budget reductions—a number that, depending how the cookie crumbles in the weeks ahead, could soar to as much as $10.5 million annually. Luckily though, says Serban, the community college has a plan.
Though the details are still in flux, City College trustees and various other SBCC governance groups have been working since February to flesh out an idea first floated by Serban. In short, the plan is to use chunks of the school’s healthy $30-million budget reserves to help slowly (i.e., less painfully) introduce the cuts over the course of the next three years, a move that would potentially prevent the school from having to layoff any regular employees. Serban, who caused a mild fervor last month when the public learned she was a finalist for a leadership role at another California community college just a few months after the majority of the Board of Trustees began their tenure at SBCC, explained the background of the budget game plan this week. “We are in the extremely fortunate position to phase-in these massive budget reductions,” she said, “because of the college’s strong fiscal management, effective stewardship of resources, and good reserves.”
Specifically, the situation in Sacramento—though obviously still a moving target of sorts—looks to shake down either one of two ways: either Prop. 98, which helps fund K-14, will remain fully funded and thus the cuts will fall at the less severe end of the spectrum, or Prop. 98 will get raided (or, even worse, fully suspended) and thus the cuts will trend toward the worst case scenario of nearly $11 million. According to the Community College League of California, such reductions in apportionment for SBCC could translate to the loss of 500 to 800 class sections and 1,300 to 2,000 full-time equivalent students spread across both the credit and noncredit sides of the school. Add this to the already state-approved tuition hike for in-state students from $26 per credit to $36 and you have yourself a situation that is anything but user friendly.
However, as per the “phase-in” plan, the immediate impacts would be considerably less than predicted by the state. Though no decisions have been made as to where exactly the cuts will fall, the proposed course of action, no matter the scenario, calls for a reduction of only $2 million for the 2011-12 school year, $2 million again in 2012-13 (that number would go up to $4 million if Prop. 98 gets suspended), and a final cut of $2.8 million in 2013-14 ($4.5 million if Prop. 98 is suspended). Unfortunately, barring a miracle turnaround at the state, the slow rollout of cuts will still equal the reduction of class offerings and student enrollment.
Looking to figure out what exactly those cuts will look like and working to prioritize things like summer school, Continuing Education offerings, and the school’s longstanding policy not to borrow money, the Board of Trustees will meet once again on the subject this Thursday, April 14, and again in May before having to finalize their budget in June. “The goal,” Trustee Marsha Croninger summed up recently, “is to not move too fast with any of this and have as broad a base of input as possible from the public and the school community before we make these tough decisions.”