College may have trouble paying bills

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By CLAIRE ST. JOHN

Like some of its students, Columbia College is living month to month.

When the state failed to pass a budget by midnight Monday, funding for community colleges stopped. If a budget isn't passed by September, Columbia and Modesto junior colleges expect to have run through their reserves, leaving no money available to pay teachers returning for fall semester classes.

Last year, when the budget remained unsigned until September, community colleges still received monthly checks to keep operations going. This year, that money has been suspended until the budget is resolved, and colleges must rely on reserves and consider loans as a way to keep the doors open.

"In the past, we were protected just as (kindergarten-12th grades) were," said Teresa Scott, vice chancellor of fiscal services for the Yosemite Community College District, comprised of Columbia and Modesto community colleges.

An unsigned state budget leaves higher education providers in a shaky position that will continue to worsen as long as the two houses of the Legislature fail to agree on a fiscal plan for California.

"Over the next few weeks, we'll be really monitoring this to see if it will affect our openings in the fall," said Columbia College President Jim Riggs.

Most community colleges, including Columbia and Modesto, have reserves off which to operate for a few months. But Scott said she is only confident the colleges will be stable through August.

"It's certainly very disconcerting because we start classes at the first of September, and we take on a tremendous payroll responsibility with all the staff coming back," Riggs said.

No one really knows what will happen if the budget still hasn't passed in September.

"It looks like we have a few months to sustain and then we'd have to look to alternatives or cutting services," Riggs said. "I wish we had more definitive information."

The college's recently opened Calaveras Center in Angels Camp will remain open, Riggs said.

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