College cuts spared

By Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat November 12, 2012 04:16 pm

Proposition 30’s success at the polls provides at least some good news for Columbia College students and faculty, who were facing the possibility of deep budget cuts if the tax increase didn’t pass.

Some cuts will still be necessary due to ongoing funding shortfalls from the state, cautioned college President Dennis Gervin. The victory of Proposition 30 simply means that reductions to class offerings won’t be as drastic.

 

“I suspect we’re going to have to pull back some, but with the Proposition 30 passage it’s going to be significantly less,” Gervin said. 

Faculty and other staff members will also be spared the pay reduction that they planned, a concession to minimize the impacts of a Proposition 30 failure.

Gov. Jerry Brown championed the temporary tax increase as the only way to prevent $6 billion in spending cuts for 2012-13, most of which would have impacted schools. 

It will raise California’s sales tax rate to 7.5 percent, up from 7.25 percent, for the next four years. It would also place a progressive income tax, lasting seven years, on those earning more than $250,000 annually.

For months, Columbia College has planned for a worst-case scenario involving the defeat of the measure at the polls, cutting back on 30 scheduled class times this fall. 

The Yosemite Community College District, which includes Modesto Junior College and Columbia College, negotiated an agreement with employees that would have slashed their pay by 5 percent if the measure failed. 

For Columbia College staff, many of whom express strong loyalty to the school, the fate of Proposition 30 felt like a high-stakes affair that would have long-term effects on the college’s future. 

“Our parents and grandparents struggled for there to be a college here in the first place,” said Wendy Hesse, a Columbia College accounting technician and officer in the California School Employees Association’s Yosemite Community College District chapter. 

Hesse was among the Mother Lode educators who campaigned for Proposition 30’s passage. 

“It’s not like we’re passing through,” she said of Columbia College faculty and staff. “This is our community. We have an interest in the community college being here for so many reasons.”

Now that voters have approved the measure, the Yosemite Community College District can avert additional budget cuts totaling more than $5.3 million, according to a district spokeswoman. 

Gervin estimated that Columbia College will keep about $350,000 in funding for the 2013-14 school year. Without Proposition 30, the college would be facing a $1.1 million deficit for the same year. 

Still, students have felt the impact of recent spending reductions. The loss of class sections has been one of their top concerns, according to Brandon Moore, president of the Associated Students of Columbia College. 

Moore is pursuing a physics degree, and said he moved to Angels Camp specifically to attend the school. (“It’s the first campus I’ve ever been on where a deer has crossed my path on the way to class,” he said.) 

His graduation and transfer to a four-year school has been delayed for a semester by the limited availability of foreign language classes he needs to graduate. 

Some core classes, particularly English and basic math, are in such high demand that they have long waiting lists, Moore said. Students who don’t show up on the first day of class automatically lose their seats. 

“It’s a general trend that every semester it becomes harder and harder to get the classes you want,” he said. 

Students across California have been feeling the same pain. Funding for California’s community colleges shrank by $809 million, or 12 percent, since 2008-09. 

Across all California community colleges, the number of class sections has gone down by 15 percent, placing yet another barrier between students and their degrees. 

Gervin said in August that Proposition 30’s failure may have resulted in the reduction of 80 more class sections by the end of the year, a move that would impact up to 1,500 students. 

Though the drastic step is no longer necessary for 2012-13, the college will not be able to restore the 30 sections it trimmed this fall, according to Gervin. He remains leery of additional state budget cuts in January.

In fact, the college is still drawing up a multi-tiered plan to address the roughly $800,000 funding shortfall that remains for 2013-14 after Proposition 30’s passage. 

The plan could call for the reduction of at least 40 class sections next year, said Gervin, who gave a schoolwide presentation Wednesday cautioning staff on the need for further cost-trimming steps. 

Like many Mother Lode voters, Moore voiced mixed opinions on Proposition 30. On the one hand, he feels that it motivated many students to vote for the first time. 

“I’m really proud that I think a lot of the students got out there and voted,” he said. “They registered this year just to vote for Proposition 30. We needed it to pass.”