As they ramp up to adopt a budget that is guaranteed to have millions of dollars worth of cuts as its calling card, Santa Barbara City College’s Board of Trustees held the first half of a two-day “study session” on the topic late Thursday afternoon. Depending on the way things shake down in Sacramento in the weeks ahead, the financial forecast has SBCC looking to wield its budgetary blade to the tune of somewhere north of $6.8 million and south of $10.5 million by the time its official paperwork is due in mid June.
President Andreea Serban has floated a plan that looks to slowly introduce the pain over the next three years via a “buy down” strategy made possible by the school’s healthy reserve coffers. But still the cuts will come, and what exactly those cuts will look like must be decided. To that end, after a series of staff-led forums earlier this week designed to inform the public about just how dire the situation is, the trustees began their formal — and tedious — fact-finding mission this week and, though no action will be taken until next month, things got interesting fast.
The festivities kicked off with a public comment period that, despite four new trustees on the dais — their successful elections born very much out of public outcry over the handling of last year’s budget blues — sounded a lot like the concerns of old, save for one major difference: communication between the administration and faculty. As Sally Saenger, an instructor on both the credit and noncredit side of the school and copresident of the Continuing Education Instructors Association, put it, “Compared to where we were, the avenues of communication have improved so much.”
Despite this obviously important change, the general message from the public in attendance was, in short, slow down the cutting calculus, consult with the community (students and instructors alike) some more, and, above all else, keep Continuing Education offerings as robust and free as possible. Two commentators, however, rallied in the name of saving as much of the credit side of the campus as possible and letting the cuts be carried out on the backs of the Adult Education programs.
The desire to keep Continuing Education classes healthy and affordable, though championed by many, was particularly fleshed out by Cathy McCammon. Speaking on behalf of the Association of Continuing Education Students (ACES), McCammon spoke at length to the board about the importance of preserving the mostly free, life-enriching, occasionally career-creating classes that have become one of SBCC’s most treasured and important offerings to the community at large. Pointing to a staff recommended option on a menu of potential cut scenarios that calls for — over the course of three years — converting some 252 class sections from free to fee-based, McCammon stated, “We just don’t want to see an adult program priced out of the reach of its students.” (This same option, it is worth noting, also looks to completely cut some 440 sections over the same period of time from the credit side of the school.)
For their part — after a particularly catty exchange in which Trustee Joan Livingston attacked newbie trustee and former Santa Barbara mayor Marty Blum for allegedly skipping committee-level meetings and not making her trustee responsibilities a top priority — SBCC’s chief decision-making entity barely started burrowing down into the information before them.
Trustee Lisa Macker expressed her concern about using big chunks of the school’s $30 million reserves for purposes that are not yet fully understood while also explaining that, at least at this point, she thinks the degree of proposed cutting might be not as necessary as staff would have them believe. Trustee Morris Jurkowitz, put off by the rhetoric of McCammon’s posturing, defended the proposed — and necessary — unilateral cutting by reiterating just how much of a mess the state is in when it comes to finances. “Things have changed and we all have to change,” explained Jurkowitz. “We are just trying to do the best we can with less funds and be as fair as possible about it.”
In the end, after more than four hours of meeting (which included an hour-plus in closed session) and just 35 minutes into the nitty gritty of President Andreea Serban’s actual presentation on the potential cutting scenarios and the logic behind them, the board, citing fatigue, called it a day and continued the hearing until early next week. The trustees will be back at it on Monday at 4 p.m. in the MacDougall Center at SBCC as they prepare for an actual budget adoption on June 9.