Community colleges face ‘February Surprise’ budget crisis

The community college system in California is already in the midst of a budget crisis, and now they’re facing an additional $149 million in cuts part way through the semester.

The unexpected mid-year cuts come after property taxes and student enrollment revenues were lower than expected, according to the Community College League of California’s website.

The $149 million cut comes after January’s $102 million “trigger cuts” and the $313 million cuts initially made for the 2011-2012 school year, bringing the total amount to $564 million, according to the CCLC budget page.

The Los Rios Community College District has had a total of about $26.3 million in cuts, with $6.8 million of the cuts coming from the “February Surprise,” according to the same website.

Cosumnes River College’s Vice President of Instruction and Student Learning Whitney Yamamura said that Los Rios will not be affected this semester.

“Los Rios has a long reputation for sound fiscal management,” Yamamura said in an email. “Because the surprise is so late in the fiscal/academic year, and because we are fiscally sound, we will defer the impact of the cuts to next year (beginning July 1st).”

“Over the course of next year, the college will cut its scheduled offerings by 2 percent. There will be other measures in an addition to the schedule cuts to make up for the shortfall in revenue,” he said.

Of the $149 million in unexpected cuts, $107 million of the shortfall is because of a “dramatic increase” in students receiving the Board of Governors Fee Waiver, according to a media statement from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
Jason Newman, a history professor and Los Rios College Federation of Teachers CRC President, argued against the fee waiver being bad.

“I do not think that the budget shortfall stems from community college students using the BOG fee waiver,” Newman said. “But I would argue that the BOG fee waiver is now subject to potential cutbacks because of the shortfall in state revenues.”

Los Rios Chancellor Brice Harris talked about the impact of the cuts in an email sent to all Los Rios employees.

Since the beginning of the budget situation, classes were cut and staff health benefits were reduced. Other areas of the budget were cut and the district reserves covered the rest, Harris said. Other cuts for the 2011-2012 year, ending June 30, are not planned, he said.

“However, these mid-year cuts and the possibility of an additional $12.3 million in reductions in the coming year if a tax initiative does not qualify and pass in November will certainly require even more drastic measures,” Harris said in the email. “We still do not see layoffs in the future, but a more significant impact on students and employees is likely unless our funding begins to be restored soon.”

Harris also said that “long-range planning” for the crisis will extend through the 2013-2014 school year.

CRC President Deborah Travis said students must also take responsibility for their goals.

“We will continue to make it a priority to provide the core classes students need in our programs,” Travis said. “We are doing everything we can to ensure access for students, but these are difficult times and students will need to be proactive in their educational pursuits.”