Los Rios union leader presents lecture on state of California community colleges

Los Rios College Federation of Teachers President Dean Murakami held a faculty forum on the current financial status of the Los Rios district amid recent budget cuts on March 28. He also provided a future outlook on what mid-year cuts may occur, pending state legislation.

The presentation also took place at the three other Los Rios campuses before being presented at Cosumnes River College. Murakami began his lecture by saying that the current budget status is “pretty bad” and emphasized the severity of the recent cuts.

“This type of recession has lasted much longer than any of us had anticipated,” Murakami said. “Much, much worse than what we ever thought could happen. I’ve never seen anything this bad.”

Murakami spent the first half of his presentation explaining the recent cuts to community colleges, which include the unexpected $149 million cuts announced in February, as well as the $102 million trigger cuts that took place on Jan. 1. Murakami related these cuts to the faculty bucket, the main source of salaries and benefits for Los Rios workers.

The $149 million shortfall, which results in a $6.9 million cut to Los Rios, is the result of legislators overestimating the amount of students attending community colleges, as well as a failure to anticipate an increased demand for Board of Governors fee waivers, Murakami said. Community colleges are currently lobbying state legislators to help resolve the conflict.

If Los Rios does not resolve the $6.9 million cut, it will have a total deficit of $27.9 million this year, Murakami said. The deficit of Los Rios funds is estimated at $14.25 million. As a result, Murakami said the trombone clause could be instituted, resulting in a 6 percent decrease in the salaries of Los Rios employees. However, Murakami said the district will opt to use reserves instead if the situation were to occur.

“The district does not want to institute the trombone clause because we think that’s a real detriment to all workers in Los Rios,” Murakami said.

Murakami also spoke about Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax proposal, which includes increasing sales taxes by 25 cents, as well as increasing personal income taxes on those who make $250,000 or more annually. The plan will generate an additional $92.5 million for community colleges.

If the initiative fails to pass, trigger cuts, which include a 6 percent rollback in Los Rios faculty salary and an increase in medical insurance fees, will occur between 2012 and 2014.

“The information that we got isn’t anything surprising,” said psychology professor James Frazee, who attended the event. “It’s good to hear from our union leadership on what we have in store for us, about what potentially could happen. Makes us comfortable to weather the storm.”

Murakami emphasized that students need to help convince legislators to restore funding to community colleges, starting with the tax proposal.

“Get on out there and start helping us get this initiative passed,” Murakami said. “This is unacceptable to see this happen.”

Correction 4/10: Corrected a sentence that said the trombone clause will be instituted, resulting in a six percent decrease in salaries. The actual number is six percent.